TOKYO/BEIJING – A Japanese man released by North Korea after being detained earlier this month for an unknown reason returned to Tokyo via Beijing on Tuesday following Pyongyang’s decision to deport him.
Tomoyuki Sugimoto, who visited North Korea as a tourist, had been in custody for investigation into a crime but the country “decided to leniently condone him,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency wrote in an English-language report Sunday.
The nature of the alleged illegal activity was not specified. Pyongyang decided to expel him “on the principle of humanitarianism,” KCNA said.
According to Japanese government sources, Sugimoto is 39 years old.
Sugimoto confirmed his identity to a Kyodo reporter who spoke to him Tuesday morning on the plane from Pyongyang to Beijing. The plane was operated by North Korea’s national flag carrier Air Koryo.
At Pyongyang airport, Sugimoto boarded the plane and sat in an economy-class seat with other tourists and business people. Clad in a black hat, dark glasses and black pants, he kept his eyes lowered most of the time on board.
During the flight, Air Koryo staff kept a close watch on Sugimoto from behind. He had a cup of tea but not an in-flight meal.
The plane had many Japanese on board, including university students who had participated in exchange events with North Korean students held in Pyongyang in August.
Once Sugimoto arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport, a throng of waiting reporters surrounded him.
Japan has been investigating why Sugimoto was detained while continuing to communicate with North Korea through a diplomatic channel in Beijing, a source close to the matter said. Tokyo and Pyongyang do not maintain formal diplomatic relations.
A Japanese government source had said earlier this month that a man thought to be a videographer in his 30s from Shiga Prefecture was being detained in North Korea.
The man may have been suspected of shooting video footage of a military facility when he visited the western port city of Nampo with a tour group, the source said.
The man was visiting North Korea on a tour arranged by a China-based travel agency, the source said, adding that there was unconfirmed information about him having visited the country in the past.