Japanese police seized almost $100 million worth of illegal drugs from a North Korean cargo ship Friday, the latest sign that the impoverished Stalinist nation is using illegal means to raise sorely needed cash.
The seizure of the massive haul of amphetamines, which were labeled as honey, comes at a time when the Japanese government is weighing whether to give North Korea food aid and as the United States attempts to draw the well-armed nation into peace talks.
Japanese police discovered 154 pounds of amphetamines in the hold of the freighter Ji Song-2 in the Pacific Coast port of Hososhima on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. The freighter left Nanpo in North Korea on April 5.
A $100 million cache of illegal drugs is huge anywhere, but especially so in Japan, which has some of the world’s toughest drug laws and lowest level of drug use.
“The image of a criminal North Korea will increase” after this drug bust, said Yasunori Sone, a political science professor at Keio University. He said the Japanese public was divided on whether to provide food aid to North Korea, with some people arguing that starving children should be fed regardless of politics or military strategy.
But this drug seizure will strengthen the argument of those who say North Korea cannot be rewarded for spending its money on missiles instead of rice. These people argue, Sone said, that North Korea cannot be trusted to feed the hungry because it promotes “kidnapping, drugs, forgery, and other crimes.”
North Koreans have been arrested in Cambodia and other countries for passing bogus U.S. $100 bills, and some of those arrested were carrying North Korean diplomatic passports, leading law enforcement authorities to believe that the illegal activity is sanctioned by the North Korean government.
Relations between Japan and North Korea remain chilled since reports earlier this year that North Korea kidnapped several Japanese citizens, including a 13-year-old girl, in the 1970s.
The kidnap victims were believed to have been taken to North Korea to teach Japanese to North Korean spies. It is not known if they are still alive, but pictures of the kidnap victims are often shown on television and in newspapers.