• Kyodo

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Many school officials and public servants in at least seven prefectures across the country have received blackmail letters that appear to have originated from one source, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

The letters, which bear sender names reminiscent of rightwing organizations, have been mailed in Osaka and Kobe. Police believe the names are false and that they have been sent by one person or group because the contents are identical.

In the letters, the senders claim they have evidence of the recipients engaging in sexual harassment or extramarital affairs, or of violating ethics guidelines for public servants.

The recipients are ordered to make 500,000 yen payments within a week to designated banks, warning that if they fail to do so a campaign will be launched against them using sound trucks.

University teachers, school principals and senior officials of local governments in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Fukui, Aichi, Mie and Tokushima prefectures have received the letters, according to the bar group.

The lawyers’ federation said it has asked local bar associations to look into similar cases because they could be considered a form of extortion or intimidation.

It also said it may consider filing complaints with the police urging them to investigate.

Missions had busy year

Japanese embassies and consulates offered assistance to 16,996 people allegedly involved in crimes and accidents abroad in 2002, up 4.5 percent from a year earlier, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Last year, some 16.5 million Japanese traveled abroad, meaning that one in every 970 travelers sought assistance from a diplomatic mission.

The number of crimes and accidents involving these people increased 1.8 percent to 14,364.

A 26.6 percent increase was registered in people who allegedly committed crimes abroad and requested help. They totaled a record 585.

Among them were 153 who were allegedly involved in crimes relating to immigration and visa matters, such as using fake passports to remain in countries longer than their authorized stays, or helping foreign nationals travel overseas illegally.

Those implicated in drug crimes totaled 77, the ministry said.

The number of Japanese who were victims of thefts, injuries and other crimes dropped 8 percent to 8,219, the ministry said.