• Kyodo

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Police and customs officials plan to open a criminal investigation into a used-car dealer from Fukuoka Prefecture on suspicion of illegally exporting a trailer truck that can be converted into a missile launcher to North Korea, sources close to the case said Friday.

The authorities are focusing on around five individuals, including a man who is believed to run the car dealership.

The sources said the company also attempted to export a large tractor unit to North Korea but the export application was turned down by the government in March. Exports of large tractors, which can be used to tow missile launchers, are subject to international trade controls and require government approval.

The case apparently illustrates Pyongyang’s belief that Japan can be a source of equipment for its missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.

The Fukuoka police believe the used-car company avoided government scrutiny in exporting the trailer truck to North Korea by falsifying the value of the vehicle so it could be shipped as “captain’s consignment” status, which requires less stringent customs inspection.

According to police sources, the company filed an application with Moji customs authority last February for permission to export a large tractor and a large trailer unit to North Korea.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which screened the application, invoked the so-called “catch-all” provision, making it obligatory for the exporter to obtain government approval for the shipment.

The company filed an application to the ministry, but it was turned down in March.

Following the rejection, the company filed another application to the Moji customs authority in late April, but this time for a trailer only.

To obtain captain consignment status, the company listed the value of the trailer at less than 300,000 yen. The actual price of the vehicle was about 3.5 million yen, police sources said.