The government on Friday morning deported to China a man claiming to be the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, along with his three companions.

The man, who identified himself to immigration authorities earlier this week as Kim Jong Nam, 29, was accompanied by two women and a 4-year-old boy, believed to be his wife, a relative and his son.

The four were detained on suspicion of illegal entry into Japan after arriving at Narita airport from Singapore on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Ministry sources said. The man, the boy and one of the two women were using fake Dominican Republic passports, but the other woman possessed a real Dominican passport, according to the sources.

The man told immigration authorities the passports cost $2,000 each and were prepared in one day. He said the foursome wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, adding that he had visited the park once before when he was “14 or 15,” according to law enforcement sources.

They also had tickets for a flight on Monday to Beijing from Narita, investigative sources said.

The four were sent off from Narita airport aboard an All Nippon Airways plane headed for Beijing because there are no diplomatic ties or direct flights between Japan and North Korea. The plane arrived in Beijing around 2:30 p.m.

Beijing airport officials quoted Chinese security authorities as saying the man is expected to leave for Pyongyang Saturday morning on a regular flight.

Despite suspicions that the man illegally entered Japan in the past, the government deported the four quickly without officially confirming the man’s identity, apparently to avoid damaging the already fragile relations with North Korea. Kim Jong Nam is believed to be the heir-apparent of Kim Jong Il.

The National Police Agency had demanded that the government lodge a criminal complaint against the four, but the government decided not to after discussions involving officials from the prime minister’s office and the Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry sources said.

Investigative authorities opposed the government’s decision to deport the four without confirming their identities, sources said.

The citizens’ group Rescue the North Korean People! Urgent Action Network (RENK) sent a letter of protest over the deportation to Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka.

In the letter, RENK said “strict investigations on international terrorism by North Korea should be conducted, by detaining Kim Jong Nam for an indefinite period.”

The man’s passport listed his name as Pang Xiong, his birthplace as “Korea” and date of birth as May 10, 1971, the same as Kim Jong Nam’s, the sources said. The man entered Japan twice last year using the same fake passport, according to passport records.

Foreign Ministry sources said the use of forged passports is “usual practice for North Korean spies” but quite rare for a ranking government or ruling party official.

According to past reports by South Korean newspapers, Kim Jong Nam been working for North Korea’s National Intelligence Agency for a year and a half and is the chosen successor to his father.

Other reports said he became head of a government panel on information technology in 1998, which prompted some North Korea experts to speculate he tried to get into Japan to learn about the Japanese IT industry.

His mother, Song Hye Rim, is a former actress and the second of his father’s four wives. She currently lives in Moscow.

Some reports have suggested that Kim Jong Il has four children. The other three are son Jong Chol and daughters Hye Gyong and Sol Song. All the children have different mothers.

A van carrying the man and his party left an immigration facility in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, early Friday morning and arrived at Narita airport, where more than 50 police officers guarded the area and some 100 photographers awaited.

In Moscow, a North Korean Embassy official Thursday described as a “provocative act” the detainment in Japan of a man believed to be Kim Jong Nam. The comment was reported bby Russian Information Agency-Novosti.

In Seoul, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung declined to comment Friday on Japan’s deportation of the man and the three others.

In a news conference after talks with the head of a European Union delegation, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, Kim said, “I don’t have any information at all and thus I can’t tell you anything beyond that reported in newspapers.”

Earlier in the day, South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Han Seung Soo said Seoul had asked Japan to confirm the identity of the man, but Tokyo replied it had been unable to do so.

In a meeting with a group of ruling and opposition party lawmakers, Han also declined to go into details on the deportation case.

South Korean domestic media gave extensive coverage to the deportation case with reports from Tokyo and analytical articles.

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