• Kyodo

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More than 100 allegedly bogus $100 bills were found aboard a North Korean freighter that called at Sakaiminato port, Tottori Prefecture, in late March, according to sources.

The bills were among some 6,500 used $100 bills aboard the 181-ton Rimyongsu 7, a North Korean cargo vessel that arrived at the port on March 23 and left Tuesday evening, the sources said.

The Kobe Customs branch office in Sakaiminato and Tottori police are investigating the case as a suspected violation of customs law, they said.

According to the sources, the captain of the ship said during questioning by Japanese authorities, “We were asked to bring the money (to Japan) so that the money can be paid to Japanese firms for cars and others items.”

The regional customs office has declined to reveal details, saying the case is under investigation.

The bills in question have been sent to the National Research Institute of Police Science in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, for further analysis. The institute operates under the auspices of the National Police Agency.

When the vessel arrived at the port on March 23, it was carrying crabs and other items. Its representative office notified the customs branch that it had brought about 6,500 $100 bills.

Under Japan’s foreign-exchange law, those who bring cash or checks worth more than 1 million yen to Japan are required to notify Japanese authorities of their cash or check holdings.

It was the first time the North Korean vessel had called at the port since a legal revision went into force March 1, banning port calls by foreign vessels weighing 100 tons or more that are not covered by insurance against oil spills and other liabilities.

Inspectors from the transport ministry’s Tottori office confirmed last week that the vessel was covered by this insurance.

The revised law is seen as an attempt to pressure North Korea into resolving issues tied to its abduction of Japanese nationals; many North Korean ships are not covered by the insurance.

In 2004, North Korean vessels made 307 port calls at Sakaiminato port, the second-largest number of port calls by North Korean ships following those at Maizuru port in Kyoto Prefecture.

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