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An increasing number of local governments are reconsidering their policy of making facilities of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun) either partially or entirely exempt from fixed-asset taxation, according to a Kyodo News survey.

Some of the prefectural and municipal governments have cited negative public sentiment toward North Korea as well as suspicions that Chongryun may have been involved in the illegal export of components for missile development by the reclusive state.

Until now, most Chongryun facilities have been either entirely or partially exempt from fixed-asset taxation, given Chongryun’s public role as an organization representing pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan, which lacks diplomatic ties with North Korea.

But the survey shows that some local authorities have changed their policies, prompted by negative feelings toward the group following North Korea’s admission last year that it abducted at least a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

The survey examined the taxation status of 135 Chongryun facilities nationwide.

According to the survey, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the city government of Niigata and the city government of Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, have decided to change their taxation policies on at least four Chongryun facilities.

Twelve other city and village governments, including those of Kyoto and Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, said they will examine the extent to which a total of 30 Chongryun facilities in their areas serve the public interest before deciding whether to impose or exempt the facilities from the tax, according to the survey.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government inspected Chongryun’s head office in May in preparation for measures to tax the group’s assets.

“Taxes should be imposed on buildings that have no diplomatic immunity status,” Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said.

Two Chongryun facilities in Niigata will no longer enjoy tax-exempt status beginning fiscal 2004. The city cited allegations that Chongryun may have been involved in the illegal shipment of items with military potential to North Korea aboard a North Korean cargo-passenger ship.

The ship, the Mangyongbong-92, runs on an irregular basis between North Korea’s Wonsan and Niigata. There are suspicions that the ship may also have been used for espionage purposes.

Tsuchiura began taxing a Chongryun hall — the first Japanese local government to do so — after determining that the facility is not open to the general public.

The local governments of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, recently investigated Chongryun facilities, while others, including those of Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture; Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture; and Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, are planning such measures, the survey shows.

A total of 108 Chongryun facilities are currently exempt from or pay reduced fixed-assets tax, according to the survey.

Most local governments are providing such tax exemptions or reductions at the request of Chongryun, the survey says.

“The city has already confirmed that a Chongryun facility is used for a meeting of local people,” an official of Obihiro, Hokkaido, said.

A city official of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, said the city has exempted a Chongryun facility from paying taxes because it is used to host a Korean language class for Japanese people.

The city of Osaka said it has a tax-exempt policy on all public facilities for foreign residents, irrespective of nationality.

“Chongryun facilities have been used to serve the public interest and are not used for making profits,” a Chongryun spokesman said. “We hope authorities will continue to implement the exemption.”

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