U.S. fears Sato leaked secrets to Russia

The United States is concerned that secret U.S. information was leaked to Russia through Masaru Sato, a Russian affairs expert at the Foreign Ministry who was arrested Tuesday, diplomatic sources said Saturday.

The U.S. government is deeply concerned because Sato allegedly delivered top-secret official telegrams on a regular basis to scandal-tainted lawmaker Muneo Suzuki, even after he left a key government post, the sources said.

Sato had access to a broad range of information from Japanese diplomatic missions abroad from July 1998, when he joined the Intelligence and Analysis Bureau and took charge of top-secret official telegrams. They included information on Japan-Russia relations and U.S. security policies.

Abroad, he was also in frequent contact with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and Russia’s SVR intelligence service. Sato is also known to have contact with Russian intelligence officers in Tokyo, the sources said.

From July 1998, when Suzuki became a deputy chief Cabinet secretary, Sato began delivering classified telegrams to him directly or through the lawmaker’s secretaries, according to the sources.

Suzuki read the telegrams as part of his duties as he was in charge of Russian diplomacy and the four groups of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan.

But Sato continued to pass secret official telegrams on to him even after Suzuki left the deputy chief Cabinet secretary post in September 1999.

A lawmaker is not permitted to see top-secret telegrams, or copies, without taking steps to lift the confidentiality designation of each telegram. Sato failed to take such steps, the sources said.

Suzuki is suspected of strengthening his influence over the ministry’s policies toward Russia by using the information in the classified telegrams he received from Sato, the sources said.

Washington fears that classified U.S. information was passed to the Russian intelligence service through Sato and is interested in learning what information Sato obtained and delivered to Suzuki.

U.S. officials are displeased by Sato’s frequent contact with the Russian intelligenceagency, the sources said.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office arrested Sato, 42, and Akira Maejima, 37, assistant director of the ministry’s Oceanian Division, on suspicion of using more than 33 million yen in funds earmarked for an international aid panel for Russia to pay for a trip to Israel.

Suzuki, an independent member of the House of representatives, resigned from the LDP in March, saying he does not want to cause problems for the ruling party because of allegations that he meddled in Foreign Ministry affairs.