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A 48-year-old Tokyo man was arrested Thursday on suspicion of molesting a Canadian woman three years ago and will also be questioned in connection with the recent disappearance of a British bar hostess, police said.

Joji Ohara, president of a real estate firm based in Tokyo’s Minato Ward and owner of properties in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, is suspected of taking the Canadian woman to one of his Kanagawa condominiums, drugging her and molesting her about three years ago, police said.

Ohara is denying all accusations.

Police did not elaborate on what led to his arrest at this late date.

The Canadian woman, who was not identified, worked as a bar hostess in the Roppongi district of Minato Ward, police said.

The missing hostess, Lucie Blackman, 22, a former British Airways flight attendant, also had worked at a Roppongi nightspot after arriving in Japan in May.

Police said Ohara frequents bars in the district, known for its concentration of hostess clubs and the many foreign women who work in some of them.

Police also said that in both cases, a man lured the women by offering to take them on a drive along the coast.

They allege that when Ohara proposed to take the Canadian woman out, he said, “Let’s go and see the ocean” — the same phrase used on Blackman before her disappearance.

Ohara is insisting the accusations are “groundless,” the sources said. He is also refusing to tell investigators his current home address and the company he works for.

Blackman, who speaks almost no Japanese, disappeared after leaving her apartment in Shibuya Ward on July 1, telling a British friend that she was going to be taken for a drive. Blackman reportedly led the friend to believe she was going on the drive with a male patron she met at her club.

Two days later, Blackman’s friend received a call from a man identifying himself as Akira Takagi, who claimed Blackman was undergoing training in a new religious cult in Chiba Prefecture and that the friend would never see her again.

Blackman’s family received an unconfirmed report that she may have been taken to Hong Kong along with another non-Japanese woman.

Blackman’s case attracted intense media attention when Blackman’s father, Tim, and sister visited Tokyo and called for help in locating her.

In addition, 77 million yen has been offered by a British businessman for information leading to Blackman’s return. The family also set up a hotline for information. The businessman has refused to disclose his identity.

Father ‘heartened’

LONDON (Kyodo) The arrest Thursday of a man who may be linked to the disappearance of missing British hostess Lucie Blackman has “heartened” her father and spurred hopes that others may now come forward with information.

Tim Blackman, 47, was reacting to news that a company executive had been arrested in Tokyo on suspicion of molesting a Canadian woman in March 1996. Police sources believe Joji Ohara, 48, may be connected to the disappearance of Lucie, 22.

Ohara is suspected of taking the Canadian woman to his condominium in Kanagawa Prefecture and molesting her after plying her with alcohol, the sources said.

Since Blackman’s disappearance, her father has visited Japan on a number of occasions to highlight the search and to set up a hotline and office in Tokyo.

Speaking from his home in Ryde, the Isle of Wight, southern England, he said: “Obviously, it’s a dramatic and noteworthy step forward in the investigation and really we have only got praise for the police in their diligence.

“We are very heartened and pleased that the police have been successful in getting information and getting the investigation this far. But we understand that there’s further to go.”

Blackman’s initial enthusiasm was tempered by reports that Ohara was denying any knowledge of Lucie. “This might not be a step forward,” he said.

Blackman said he hoped that the arrest would encourage more people to come forward with information.

“I think that now somebody has been arrested, it might encourage more information to come out and for people to come forward. He will not get out for some time and there must be plenty of people around him who know what’s going on and we would like to appeal to them to do the honorable thing,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Lucie was still alive, he said, “We have to maintain the hope that she is OK.”

Blackman said that while he is presently planning to visit Tokyo in two weeks’ time, he will obviously go immediately if there is a major development.

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