• Kyodo News


The four North Korean defectors who arrived by boat in Aomori Prefecture will be transferred to an immigration facility in Ibaraki Prefecture on Wednesday, informed sources said.

After being taken to the Ushiku facility by helicopter, immigration authorities are likely to quickly launch procedures to allow them to travel to South Korea, the sources said Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day, the government said it had yet to decide when it might allow the four defectors to go on to South Korea because it was still not certain whether they are true refugees.

The couple and their two adult sons were wearing watches and had a spare engine in their small wooden boat when they arrived Saturday morning at a port in Aomori Prefecture, raising doubts over whether they are as poor as they claimed, sources close to the police investigation said.

Police in Aomori Prefecture reportedly asked a summary court for and received a one-day extension of their custody.

Asked at a news conference in Tokyo when the government intends to transport the four to South Korea as per their wishes, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said, “I cannot say for sure, as the case is still under investigation.”

Police have been questioning the four since they arrived in Fukaura under brief escort by the Japan Coast Guard after the vessel was found off the Sea of Japan port town.

The government’s suspicions were aroused after police found the younger son to be in possession of a minute quantity of illegal amphetamines.

The man reportedly told police: “I kept the drug in order to not fall asleep while steering the boat.”

But police now doubt the four were as destitute and politically oppressed as they claim, because they believe ordinary North Koreans have no access to drugs, which are thought to be produced by Kim Jong Il’s regime as a highly valued overseas smuggling commodity, the investigation sources said.

Investigators thus want more time to probe how the younger son obtained the amphetamines, the sources said.

Police also found a quantity of liquid rat poison, which the four claimed they planned to use to kill themselves if they had been caught by North Korean authorities while trying to escape.

The northeast port city of Chongjin, where the family said they had sailed from on May 27, is believed to be one of the North’s drug production centers, police said, based on investigations they have carried out over the past decade.

Police also suspect the family, despite claiming to be barely surviving by fishing for octopus in the North, was too prepared for the voyage, given the equipment and supplies found on the boat, according to the sources.

Aso echoed such concern during Tuesday’s news conference, saying there is a need to continue questioning the four to determine the true nature of their status.

“It is clear they are not armed refugees, but there is no guarantee that they are not just posing as refugees,” he said.

Toshio Miyatsuka, a Yamanashi Gakuin University professor who is familiar with everyday life in North Korea, said a watch is a luxury for ordinary North Koreans.

A liter of diesel fuel costs as much as the average monthly salary of an ordinary worker, Miyatsuka pointed out, suggesting that given the fuel supply and the spare engine the family must have prepared a large amount of funds for their voyage.

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