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Chad O'Carroll and Kosuke Takahashi
Chad O'Carroll and Kosuke Takahashi are regular contributors to NK News, based in Seoul and Tokyo respectively.
Reports that Japanese sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto has been detained in North Korea are currently unconfirmed, a Japanese intelligence official told NK News on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.
Fujimoto, Kim Jong Il’s former sushi chef, may have been put in custody in Pyongyang for selling information to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which he had obtained after visiting North Korea in 2012 and 2016, Japan’s Daily Shincho said earlier on Wednesday.
The outlet said that his sushi restaurant, which is called “Takahashi” and opened in Pyongyang in early 2017, had closed down as a result of his detention, though the publication didn’t specify when.
“We have not received any information that Mr. Fujimoto had been in custody and that his Japanese restaurant ‘Takahashi’ has closed, so far,” a Japanese intelligence officer told NK News on condition of anonymity.
Though a pricey menu and small dining area mean that few can go to the restaurant, NK News understands from informed sources that it had been open to at least the end of the first quarter of 2019.
And though Fujimoto wasn’t always working there – his North Korean staff often prepare and serve the menu –the Japanese chef had nevertheless been spotted there as recently as March of this year.
Despite the lack of confirmation of his current whereabouts, a former official from Japan’s Public Security Agency said on Wednesday they believed it was nevertheless possible Fujimoto had been arrested.
“One (possibility) is he is in custody as he has not been trusted there due to his past betrayal,” the official said, caveating that it may also be possible that he is missing due to sickness from old age.
Fujimoto had sought to distance himself from Tokyo since moving back to North Korea in 2016 after a span of living in Japan between 2001-2016. He had previously served as Kim Jong Il’s sushi chef in North Korea from 1989-2001.
“He was very determined to go to Pyongyang and never to come back to Japan after he opened that restaurant, because before that he had once betrayed North Korea’s Royal Family and had come back to Japan,” the active-duty intelligence officer explained.
Fujimoto’s betrayal, as far as North Korea was concerned, was to leave his wife and children in 2001 to suddenly move back to Tokyo, where he went on to write a book about Kim Jong Un and regularly engaged in often controversial interviews with global media.
But Fujimoto was suddenly called to Pyongyang in July 2012, where he had a tearful encounter with Kim Jong Un and atoned for his sins during a two-week visit to the country.
Speaking at a press conference shortly after that trip, Fujimoto said he rushed into Kim Jong Un’s arms and said by crying, “A traitor as I am, I came back. I am very sorry.”
Kim Jong Un replied to him, “No worries, no worries,” according to Fujimoto.
Despite the encounter, Fujimoto quickly begun conducting interviews again with Tokyo-based media until his return to Pyongyang in 2016, explaining that he makes his “living by accepting individual interviews with news organizations through charging a commission.”
During that time he conducted interviews with various Japanese outlets, NK News and some Western journalists, including GQ magazine and Washington Post author Anna Fifield, whose recently published book ‘The Great Successor‘ contains significant tracts based on interviews with Fujimoto.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: NK News