Japanese diplomat arrested over suspicious fire at embassy in DRC

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:24am

A Japanese diplomat has been arrested on suspicion of setting fire to the building that houses the Japanese embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, apparently in an effort to destroy evidence that money had gone missing.

Shinya Yamada was summoned back to Tokyo after the fire, which broke out in the four-storey building in Kinshasa that housed the embassy at around 7.45pm on June 20.

Local officials said there was a strong odour of petrol at the scene of the fire and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department sent a team of investigators to the Congo in August and again in November to try to determine the cause of the blaze.

Tokyo police officers arrested 30-year-old Yamada on charges of arson this week, although the former third secretary in charge of accounting at the embassy has denied the allegations. He is also being questioned over an estimated 22 million yen (HK$1.66 million) in cash that is unaccounted for, although charges have not been filed.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo declined to comment on the case on the grounds that the police investigation was continuing.

Through diplomatic channels, Japanese investigators were provided with closed-circuit TV footage of the area around the building that housed the embassy. The footage captures a man who resembles Yamada entering the building on the night the blaze started, Jiji Press reported. A short time later, the same person is seen leaving the building.

The fire caused some damage to the walls and ceiling on the fourth floor, one of two the embassy occupied.No injuries were caused by the blaze.

Police later found a canister that had previously contained petrol at Yamada's home in Kinshasa.

The 20-strong staff of the embassy were transferred to temporary offices at the ambassador's official residence and a nearby apartment complex and were able to continue their duties, the Foreign Ministry said.

Fumio Kishida, the Japanese foreign minister, said during a press conference that the ministry was "closely co-operating with the police investigation" and promised to "pay close attention to the developments in the investigation".