Special Japanese team probes illegal technology transfers

A special Japanese government investigation unit is conducting a probe of possible illegal transfers of high technology to communist nations. The charges filed last week against two trading firms for illegal sales of electronic machinery to China are only a first result of this effort, government officials say.

``Our investigation team is still working,'' says Atsushi Iwai, director of the Security Export Control Office of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).

The team was set up last July following revelations of illegal sales of propeller milling machines by Japan's Toshiba Machine Co. It has been checking back records for evidence of illegal exports, particularly by small trading firms specializing in sales to communist countries.

``It is natural that the focus [of the probe] tends to be put on such trading houses which specialize in trade with China, the Soviet Union, and other socialist countries,'' said a Foreign Ministry official.

Almost all cases of violation of export laws on strategic goods have involved this type of firm.

The officials declined to say how many firms are under investigation, but the investigation team has been formed into a permanent subunit of MITI.

The investigators were led to two firms, Kyokuto Shokai Co. and Shinsei Koeki Co., by a tip provided by the US government in August, says Mr. Iwai. The US information was ``very helpful,'' he says, adding the Japanese team has dug up more information.

MITI filed charges with the police last Monday against the two firms for illegally exporting electronic equipment to China. The equipment is generally used for measuring earthquakes but it can also be used to analyze nuclear explosions, test radars, and detect submarines.

Both companies do almost all their business with China. On Tuesday, police raided their and the manufacturer's offices, seizing evidence. The manufacturer of the machines, Iwatsu Electric Co., denies knowledge of the transfer. Officials say Iwatsu is still under investigation.

Japan denies a widely assumed linkage between the timing of the move and recent US congressional action to include sanctions against Toshiba Machine and Toshiba Corporation in a proposed omnibus trade bill. ``It has nothing to do with the congressional decision,'' says Iwai. Investigators finally had enough evidence to call the police, he says.

A Cabinet-level group on the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls) met Friday to discuss the case and US action. Chief Cabinet Secretary Keizo Obuchi said the incident occured before Japan toughened its export control system last year. The ministers restated Japan's strong objection to the US sanctions as failing to pay regard to efforts made so far by the government and private companies. Japan said it would continue to press, along with the US, tration, for the sanctions to be removed from the law's final version.

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