Japanese man detained on Russian-held island over undeclared currency, reports say

It is believed to be the first time that a Japanese national has been kept on one of the Japanese-claimed islands at the heart of a territorial row between the two countries after visiting there under a bilateral programme

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 11:19pm

A Japanese interpreter has been questioned by Russian authorities and is being kept on the Russian-held Kunashiri Island off Hokkaido after visiting the island as part of a visa-free programme, a source close to Japanese-Russian ties said on Sunday.

It is believed to be the first time that a Japanese national has been kept on one of the Japanese-claimed islands at the heart of a territorial row between the two countries after visiting there under the bilateral programme, which began in 1992.

The interpreter was questioned by the authorities when he underwent a baggage check to leave the island, according to the source.

Local Russian media reported, meanwhile, that a Japanese man carrying four million yen (US$40,000) in cash was held Saturday on the grounds that he had not declared his possession of the money.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry source confirmed that the man reported by Russian media is the interpreter but indicated that the Japanese government does not regard him as being officially detained.

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The incident could cast a shadow over the planned meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 2 on the fringes of an economic forum in Vladivostok.

Japan is calling for Russia to allow the Japanese man to leave the island, while expressing regret at Russia’s exercising of its authority in the area, according to a Japanese source.

The source said the Japanese man received a package from a person in the fisheries industry on Kunashiri Island who asked that he deliver it to the Japanese side. The man claims he did not know the contents of the package, the source added.

Russian media Sakhalin.info suggested the possibility that the Japanese man may be a “courier” between Japanese and Russian fishermen, saying he has refused to explain why he had the large amount of money with him.

The man was part of a Japanese group that arrived in Kunashiri on Friday as part of the visa-free programme.

Every year, former residents of Kunashiri and other Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, their descendants and others visit the islands under the bilateral visa-free exchange programme

Tokyo and Moscow have been locked in a long-standing dispute over the ownership of these islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in the second world war on August 15, 1945.

The islands are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.