FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Fukuoka High Court ruled Thursday that a facility owned by a pro-North Korea organization is not eligible for preferential tax treatment as the group’s work does not benefit the general public, reversing a lower court decision that recognized the public nature of Kumamoto Korean Hall.

It is the first judicial decision to halt a reduction or exemption of local taxes on halls affiliated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).

On grounds that the hall does not benefit the Japanese public, the high court ordered Kumamoto Mayor Seishi Koyama to order the official who granted the exemption in fiscal 2003 — in this case Koyama himself — to personally pay the 305,300 yen in taxes.

“We do not recognize any evidence that the hall was used for the public’s benefit, and there exists no reason to reduce its taxes or exempt it from paying them,” presiding Judge Hiroyuki Nakayama said in handing down the ruling.

Nakayama also said Chongryun “conducts activities to benefit Korean residents of Japan under the leadership of North Korea and in unity with North Korea and is not an organization that in general benefits the society of our country.”

The Kumamoto Municipal Government reduced the fixed property tax and city planning tax on the hall, saying it was equivalent to a public facility because it was used for community exchanges. The hall was exempt from paying 305,300 yen in taxes as of May 20, 2003.

In January 2004, members of the Kumamoto chapter of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea filed a lawsuit against Koyama, demanding he seek payment of the unpaid portion of the taxes and stop giving preferential tax treatment to Chongryun.

Yoshihiro Kano, who heads the plaintiff group in the association’s Kumamoto chapter, called the ruling “rightful in light of the Japanese people’s feelings. It was sound.”

Kano urged the Kumamoto to accept the ruling and not file an appeal.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe described the ruling as “meaningful” because judicial authorities have judged how the Korean group should be treated.

Koyama, however, said, “I’ve been very perplexed, as the high court issued a ruling that is totally different from the district court’s.”

“We have accorded the preferential tax treatment to the Korean hall because we recognize it as tantamount to a public hall. We’ll decide whether to appeal as soon as possible,” the mayor said.

The Kumamoto District Court ruled last April that Kumamoto Korean Hall was eligible for the tax reductions, prompting the association to immediately file an appeal with the Fukuoka High Court.

Other local governments have exempted or reduced taxes for properties owned by Chongryun, a recognition of their function as de facto diplomatic missions for Pyongyang. Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic ties.

However, some governments have changed position in recent years and started imposing full taxes on the properties, particularly after North Korea admitted in September 2002 what had long been alleged — that its agents had abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Pyongyang claims it spirited away 13, but Tokyo believes many more were kidnapped.

South Korean spouse?

One of the five South Koreans abducted by North Korea in the late 1970s, identified by Pyongyang as Kim Chol Jun, may be the husband of abductee Megumi Yokota, a senior government official said Thursday.

The South Korean, whose real name is Kim Yong Nam, “is one of the men most likely” to have married Yokota, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official provided no specific reasons for the government’s belief that the man identified by Pyongyang is Kim Yong Nam.

Yokota was abducted by North Korea in 1977 at age 13.

A South Korean group of abductees’ relatives said Kim Yong Nam and four other South Koreans between the ages of 16 and 18 were abducted from southern South Korea by the North in 1977 and 1978.

The Japanese government has asked South Korea for test samples on Kim Yong Nam so it can conduct a DNA analysis to check into allegations that one of the five South Koreans was Yokota’s husband.

Sin taught Chimuras

Two repatriated abductees have told police that a former North Korean agent Japan has put on the international wanted list was in charge of educating them in the North, police sources said Thursday.

Yasushi and Fukie Chimura, both 50, have told police that Sin Guang Su, 76, who has been linked to a number of abductions of Japanese to North Korea, taught them Korean and other subjects in North Korea, the sources said.

Other abductees have told similar stories of Sin and police now suspect the agent may have been a central figure in the abduction program.

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