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Japan Arrests 5 Executives Allegedly Selling Banned Machinery to Iran - 2003-06-13


Japanese police have arrested five executives of a Tokyo-based manufacturer for allegedly exporting to Iran machinery that could have military applications. The same company is suspected of having made similar illegal sales to North Korea.

Japanese police say they are continuing to investigate a Tokyo-based equipment maker called Seishin Enterprise for illegal equipment sales to Iran, North Korea and other nations.

On Thursday, police arrested company president Haruhiko Ueda and four other Seishin officials on suspicion that between 1999 and 2000, they shipped industrial milling equipment to Iran that could be used in missile development.

Sadakazu Tanigaki is chairman of Japan's National Public Safety Commission. He says the sales undermine Japan's efforts to prevent international terrorism and that investigators must make the utmost efforts to gather the facts on these sales and any others like them.

The machines involved, known as jet mills, can grind materials into a fine powder, and are generally used by drug and food makers. But they can also grind solid fuel for missiles and rockets to increase launch distances.

The mills fall under international pacts that regulate trade in equipment that has military applications. In Japan, companies require government permission before they can sell such equipment to Iran, Iraq, Libya or North Korea.

Seishin has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to cooperate with investigators. But Japan's Kyodo News Agency quotes police sources as saying company officials were fully aware the sales were illegal, and that they even offered Iran information on how the equipment could be used for missile development.

The Asahi newspaper quotes investigative sources who say Seishin has sold the same equipment in the past to North Korea, China and the former Soviet Union, also without government approval. No charges have been brought for those earlier alleged transactions.

The news of the sales is an embarrassment to the Japanese government, which strongly backs the U.S.-led war on terror and the Bush Administration's effort to halt the proliferation of both missile technology and weapons of mass destruction.