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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
An influential Tokyo-based pro-North Korea outlet on Thursday confirmed that Japanese sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto is alive, in response to media reports that he may be detained for leaking information to an intelligence agency.
A Korean-language report, carried by the Choson Sinbo — a newspaper run by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) — said that the “rumors of the arrest were fabricated” and included a photo of Fujimoto working at his restaurant in Pyongyang.
“When our Pyongyang correspondent visited the restaurant, Mr. Fujimoto was making sushi as usual,” the Choson Sinbo said.
“He also said, in an infuriated tone of voice, that [the reports] were ‘groundless fabrication,’ and ‘these false reports [of me] divulging state secrets are defamation against me.’”
NK News earlier this month reported that Fujimoto’s restaurant, called “Takahashi” — which was launched in Pyongyang in early 2017 — was still open for business, citing multiple diners.
Fujimoto was seen by one diner serving clients at the restaurant, while another visitor observed a large photo of him hanging on the side of the restaurant.
The Choson Sinbo on Thursday criticized the Japanese weekly news magazine Daily Shincho, which on June 26 pointed to the possibility that Fujimoto may have been arrested for divulging state secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The outlet then said that his sushi restaurant had closed down as a result of his detention, though the publication didn’t specify when.
When the news first broke out, NK News in June said the media report that Fujimoto had been in custody and his restaurant had closed was unconfirmed, citing a Japanese intelligence officer.
Early July saw Japan’s Asahi Shimbun report that the whereabouts of Fujimoto had been unknown since around June, citing anonymous sources “familiar with Japan-North Korean relations.”
Fujimoto had previously served as Kim Jong Il’s sushi chef in North Korea from 1989 to 2001. He then left his wife and children and suddenly moved back to Tokyo. After publishing his books on the North Korean leadership and his 13-year experience in the country, he returned to Pyongyang in 2016.
The Choson Sinbo said that Fujimoto’s case was an example of “fake news fabricated and expanded by Japanese and South Korean media.”
The pro-Pyongyang outlet also criticized South Korean media, including the Chosun Ilbo, for reporting his detention following the Daily Shincho’s coverage.
The Choson Sinbo added that Japanese and South Korea media are using Tokyo’s recent restrictions on exporting materials crucial for manufacturing semiconductors and display devices as an opportunity to “lash Moon Jae-in.”
Pointing to the Chosun Ilbo in particular, the pro-Pyongyang outlet said the right-leaning South Korean newspaper argued that Japan’s export control was caused by the South Korean government’s “diplomatic incompetence.”
The Choson Sinbo also said Japanese conservative media, including the Daily Shincho, also “deliberately” translated and shared comments critical of the Moon Jae-in government — which were carried in the Chosun Ilbo’s article — and “propagated that this is the opinion of the South Korean public.”
“To achieve their goals, they write lies without blinking. We should not be fooled by swindlers disguising themselves as media.”
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured Image: Choson Sinbo