Kagoshima temple fails in bid to get loan to buy Chongryon’s Tokyo HQ

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The chief priest of the Buddhist temple that won the bid to acquire the Tokyo headquarters of the pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon said Friday he has failed to gather enough funds for the purchase, suggesting financial institutions were pressured not to extend loans to his temple.

“Today, Saifukuji has decided to give up the acquisition of the Chongryon building, which we won the bid for,” Ekan Ikeguchi, who heads Saifukuji Temple in Kagoshima Prefecture, told reporters.

Igekuchi added that he was advised by financial institutions, experts on Asia diplomacy and many others over the purchase but said he regretted not being able to seal the deal due to his own shortcomings.

On whether there was pressure from outside parties to prevent the final sale, Ikeguchi said there “were many things that happened to our temple, and I also think there (pressure was exerted) against those who offered cooperation.”

Ikeguchi’s temple won a court-led tender in March to buy the 10-story building in Chiyoda Ward for ¥4.5 billion.

Chongryon is formally knownas the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

Ikeguchi said the process for negotiating a loan for the purchase “would cause too much trouble for financial institutions, so we decided to back off.” Friday was the deadline for the total payment to be made.

Ikeguchi, who has strong ties with North Korea through Buddhist exchanges and has visited the hermit state multiple times, explained that his initial intentions to buy the building stemmed from fears of bilateral ties souring even further.

“A North Korean official told me directly that bidding on the building, which served as the (de facto North Korean) embassy, would be considered declaration of war,” he said.

The building, built in 1986, was put up for a court-led tender by the government-backed Resolution and Collection Corp. to recover Chongryon’s outstanding loans of nearly ¥63 billion.

Ikeguchi had said that had the temple been able to buy the building, he would have kept it “as is” and created a facility to provide harmony for all Asian ethnic groups.

Chongryon’s leaders had expressed relief that their working environment would basically remain the same.

“It is truly heartbreaking” that he couldn’t secure enough funds, Ikeguchi said.

Failure by Saifukuji to make the payment will again bring the future of Chongryon’s building into question. A new bid is likely to be held within a few months, although Saifukuji, which will lose the ¥500 million deposit it put down in March, will be ineligible to participate in any future tender bids.

The process of gathering funds from financial institutions proved to be fraught with difficulties, even though Saifukuji offered its temple in Kagoshima, and another in Kanagawa Prefecture, as collateral.