Diplomat tied to fire at embassy in Congo

Kyodo, Staff Report

A diplomat who worked at the Japanese Embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo was arrested Monday on suspicion of setting a fire at the mission in June, police said.

Tokyo police nabbed Shinya Yamada, 30, third secretary at the embassy in Kinshasa, who had returned to Japan to work at the Foreign Ministry following the June 20 fire. No one was injured in the incident.

It is rare for Japanese investigative authorities to probe a case that occurred at a diplomatic mission abroad.

The embassy, which was located on the third and fourth floors of a four-story building in Kinshasa, the capital, was partially destroyed by the fire.

Investigators said they suspect Yamada embezzled funds from the embassy and started a fire after sprinkling gasoline in a bid to destroy evidence. The fourth floor accommodated the offices of the ambassador and counselor.

After the fire was extinguished, an embassy official found $260,000 was missing from a safe at the embassy, Foreign Ministry officials told reporters Monday.

According to ministry officials Yamada was in debt and had borrowed money from several people. The officials declined to disclose the amount of his debts or why he was in debt.

The ministry will cooperate fully with the Metropolitan Police Department to figure out what happened to the money.

Based on a request from the Foreign Ministry, the Tokyo police dispatched officials to Kinshasa to investigate the situation after the fire broke out.

Security records of people entering and exiting the building show Yamada was the last person to leave the diplomatic establishment on the day of the fire.

Investigators also discovered a tank that is believed to have contained gasoline inside a room where Yamada had lived.

At the time of the fire, about 20 officials were working at the embassy, half of them locally hired staff. After the fire, the embassy functions were temporarily relocated to the ambassador’s residence and later moved to a condominium unit.

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