Court: Temple can buy Chongryon’s HQ

Entity with ties to North Korea to stay in central Tokyo building

Kyodo, JIJI

The Tokyo District Court said Friday it has allowed a Buddhist temple with ties to North Korea to acquire the Tokyo headquarters of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon).

The decision will stand unless objections are raised by the parties concerned, including Chongryon or the state-backed Resolution and Collection Corp., which put the association’s assets up for a court-led tender to recoup outstanding loans of around ¥62.7 billion.

Saifukuji Temple in Kagoshima Prefecture submitted the winning offer of ¥4.52 billion, trumping four rival bidders and acquiring the 10-story building and its 2,300-sq.-meter tract of land in Chiyoda Ward.

Chongryon’s head office has served as North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan in the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Saifukuji’s 76-year-old chief priest, Ekan Ikeguchi, said he was asked by a senior North Korean official to maintain Chongryon’s headquarters, indicating the temple’s operator plans to lease the building to Chongryon.

Ikeguchi has deep ties with the North through Buddhist exchanges and frequent visits to the communist country.

Last April, he attended the memorial ceremony to mark the 100th birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. During that trip, he met with Japanese fugitives who hijacked a Japan Airlines jetliner to the North in 1970 in what became known as the Yodo-go incident.

The ownership of Chongryon’s assets will be transferred to the Saifukuji Temple operator providing it forks over the ¥4.52 billion by the court-designated deadline. Temple sources said talks are under way with a financial institution to finance the deal, denying Chongryon has offered to extend loans to Saifukuji.

RCC earlier took over the liabilities from credit unions involving pro-North Korean residents in Japan, including Chongryon’s head office and land. The building was erected in 1986.

Last June, RCC received a final court ruling in a separate suit that confirmed the effective owner of the headquarters and the land is Chongryon itself, not the company officially registered as the owner. The court decided to start procedures the following month for the property’s compulsory auction, in response to a petition from RCC.