National

MSDF officer arrested, admits spying for Russia

The Metropolitan Police Department and Kanagawa Prefectural Police arrested Lt. Cmdr. Shigehiro Hagisaki, a researcher at the Defense Agency’s National Institute for Defense Studies, on suspicion of violating the Self-Defense Forces Law, which prohibits SDF members from divulging classified security information.

Hagisaki, 38, basically owned up to the allegations, police said.

The military attache at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, identified by the MPD as Victor Bogatenkov, 44, a resident of Tokyo’s Minato Ward, cannot be arrested because he has diplomatic immunity.

Police said Bogatenkov, who speaks fluent Japanese, is a member of the Russian intelligence organization GRU who came to Japan about three years ago.

The MPD and Kanagawa police raided four locations, including the institute in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward and Hagisaki’s home in Setagaya Ward, seizing several hundred items. Police sources said later Friday that among the confiscated items was “something related to the U.S. Navy.

Police said Hagisaki, who is from Kyoto Prefecture, was wined and dined in return for handing over classified documents, and is suspected of receiving money as well.

According to police, Hagisaki gave Bogatenkov information about the MSDF on about 10 occasions between September 1999 and last month.

On Thursday evening, MPD officers asked Hagisaki and Bogatenkov, who were meeting at a restaurant in Minato Ward, to voluntarily accompany them to a police station for questioning, but Bogatenkov refused, citing his diplomatic privileges. Hagisaki complied.

The two men are believed to have made contact about 10 times since December at bars, sushi shops and Chinese restaurants in central Tokyo that were crowded with office workers after work, sources said.

They asked the Russian Embassy through the Foreign Ministry to allow them to question Bogatenkov.

However, the Russian Embassy rejected the request that the defense attache submit himself for police questioning in connection with the alleged espionage case, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa said.

Nakagawa told a news conference in the afternoon that the Foreign Ministry conveyed the request from the National Police Agency to the embassy.

He quoted a Russian Embassy official as saying, “We think (appearing for police questioning) is not appropriate.”

After graduating from the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 1986, Hagisaki served aboard destroyers and support craft. Fluent in Russian,

he had also worked in the MSDF’s documentation division, which deals with information on foreign defense.

Hagisaki had been working at the institute as an expert on Russia since the end of March after completing a master’s course on security at the academy that he began in April 1998.

Police, however, said they had been investigating security leaks at the institute since January.

Defense Agency chief Kazuo Torashima apologized Friday over the alleged leak of Japanese defense secrets to Russia and promised to investigate the matter.

Torashima also voiced concern over the impact the matter would have on Japan-Russia defense exchanges.

But he said no changes have been made so far on ongoing projects such as MSDF port visits to Russia and a planned visit to Japan by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev in November.

“This is an extremely regrettable incident, and I offer my deep apologies to the people of the country,” Torashima said at a news conference.

He said the agency will set up a special team to investigate the case.

Torashima said the officer will be “dealt with in a severe manner” pending results of investigations.

Earlier in the day, Nakagawa said that while the framework of bilateral defense exchanges should be left intact, Japan will lodge some kind of statement with Russia after it obtains details on the affair.

“Once we have the details of the case, we must think of what we should say to Russia,” he said.

Nakagawa said the government plans to make every effort to prevent similar incidents.

“The incident could reduce the people’s trust in the Self-Defense Forces and could invite mistrust from home and abroad toward Japan’s defense system,” Nakagawa said.

The incident is the first security leak to Russia to be revealed since 1980, when a former major general of the Ground Self-Defense Force was arrested on suspicion of providing secrets to a Russian attache.

The arrest came just three days after a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Mori tried in vain to resolve a 55-year-old dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Russia mulls response

MOSCOW (Kyodo) Russia may take “appropriate” retaliatory measures against Japan in connection with an alleged espionage case involving a military attache at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, Interfax News Agency reported Friday, quoting a government source.

A Maritime Self-Defense Force officer was arrested in Tokyo earlier in the day for allegedly passing defense secrets to a Russian military attache.

Separately, ITAR-Tass news agency reported that a Russian Embassy official in Tokyo said Friday the espionage case is a provocation.

“We regard the incident as a provocation with the aim to undermine all positive achievements in the bilateral relations for the past few years,” ITAR-Tass quoted the official as saying.

“Japan, unfortunately, has forces that have no affection for the radical improvement in Russian-Japanese relations and that are trying to turn history backward,” the official said, according to the report dispatched from Tokyo.

Active exchanges, including private meetings, have been established between the Russian and Japanese navies, the official said, calling the exchanges “only natural and complying with international practice.”

The Russian government has not made any official comment on the matter.