National / Crime & Legal

Letters containing suspected cyanide targeted 18 Japanese newspapers and drugmakers

JIJI, Reuters, Kyodo

Threatening letters with white powder suspected to be potassium cyanide were recently sent to a total of 18 companies, police sources said Tuesday.

The letters include those delivered to the Tokyo headquarters of major dailies the Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun, and offices of drugmakers in Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido, according to the sources.

Letters to the Tokyo-based companies contained messages threatening to produce and distribute fake drugs, they said.

A letter sent to the Asahi on Friday threatened to distribute drugs laced with potassium cyanide, a highly toxic substance, unless Bitcoin worth 35 million South Korean won (about ¥3.4 million) was paid, the newspaper said. It did not say to whom the money should be paid. A similar envelope was delivered last week to the Mainichi’s Tokyo offices.

According to NHK, police identified some of the powder as potassium cyanide.

Some of the letters were sent under the names of former senior members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, including its guru, Shoko Asahara, who were executed last year for a series of crimes including the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo.

Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department and others are investigating the cases on suspicion of attempted extortion.

The police suspect that the threatening letters were sent by a single person or entity, given the similarity of their content, the source said.