The Justice Ministry will set up an intelligence center to track the movements of suspected terrorists and identify weaknesses in immigration controls at airports, according to ministry sources.

The center, expected to be established in fiscal 2005, will have more than 10 officers under its direct supervision or within the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, the sources said.

The center will analyze information gathered from the National Policy Agency and abroad on foreigners who might be involved in terrorist activities or other wrongdoing. This intelligence will be shared with immigration bureaus nationwide to tighten controls at airports and ports.

The center will process emigration and immigration records, study the methodology of making fake passports and, using data from foreign authorities, compile lists of terrorists.

It will collate details about illegal aliens’ national origins, their flight or sea routes, points of entry into Japan and subsequent movements.

By analyzing such information, the ministry will be able to identify airports and ports with lax controls, the sources said, adding the ministry hopes to identify countries whose passports are easily forged.

It will then call on local bureaus identified as being lax to tighten immigration controls or to be careful about screening aliens with suspicious passports.

The ministry intends to develop relations between personnel at the center, the NPA and customs offices to promote tighter controls.

The ministry estimates that about 250,000 foreigners are now in Japan illegally. About 45,000 were deported last year, up 9.5 percent from the previous year, it said.

Okinawa assault team

The National Police Agency will form a special assault team in Okinawa in fiscal 2005 to respond better to possible terrorist attacks against U.S. military facilities and other serious crimes.

The prefecture’s location prompted the NPA to launch the special unit there, sources at the agency said.

It would take considerable time for local police with such special units in other prefectures to send their teams to Okinawa to handle a terrorist attack or serious crime, including a hijacking.

Special assault teams have been serving since 1996 in the Metropolitan Police Department, as well as in Osaka, Hokkaido, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures.

NPA eyes phone fraud

The National Police Agency set up a task force Monday to deal with a sharp rise in phone fraud.

The first 10 months of the year saw people bilked out of some 22 billion yen through a variety of such scams.

The agency said there are three main methods: employing the “It’s me” tactic, in which someone claims to be a relative of an elderly person and asks for money, usually for a bogus emergency; demanding a fictitious payment; and demanding money to guarantee fictitious loans.

The task force plans to gather information about fraud cases nationwide to boost coordinated investigations, NPA officials said.

Because many of the swindlers are believed to be based in the Tokyo area, the police forces of Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa will meet regularly to exchange information, they said.

The NPA last week designated the three types of fraud as remittance-soliciting fraud following the crime’s rapid diversification from the typical “It’s me” scam.

Of the 22 billion yen swindled so far this year, “It’s me” scams netted about 15 billion yen, compared with 4.3 billion yen for the whole of 2003, the agency said.

A law banning bank accounts from being sold will take effect Dec. 30. Such accounts are commonly used to receive the remitted money.

The ruling bloc will submit a bill to the Diet in January to clamp down on prepaid mobile phones, which are also commonly used in the scams.