Korean Spy Suspect Called Key Figure in Crash of Jet
A Korean resident of Japan who disappeared two years ago is a central figure in the mystery surrounding Sunday’s crash of a Korean Air jetliner with 115 aboard, South Korean and Japanese authorities said Wednesday.
Japanese police say a man using the name Akira Miyamoto has been on a wanted list as a suspect in a North Korean spy case since March of last year, the Korea Times reported from Tokyo.
South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan, citing progress made by Japanese investigators, expressed strong suspicion Wednesday that Communist North Korea was involved in causing the crash of Korean Air’s Flight 858 near the Thai-Burmese border. The plane, a Boeing 707, was en route from Baghdad, Iraq, to Seoul when it disappeared abruptly Sunday, shortly before it was to land in Bangkok, Thailand.
There was still confusion Wednesday as to whether the crash site has been identified from the air. Searchers on the ground have not reached the wreckage.
“It is clear that North Korea has intensified its provocative moves to obstruct the upcoming (Dec. 16) presidential election and the 1988 Seoul Olympics,” Chun said at a Cabinet meeting.
Miyamoto’s name was first linked with the case by Shinichi Hachiya, 69, of Tokyo.
An Asian man using a fraudulent passport made out in Hachiya’s name, who committed suicide Tuesday while under detention in Bahrain, and a woman who attempted suicide with him, are suspected of having planted a bomb in the jetliner before disembarking at its last stop before the crash. Miyamoto’s connection with these two remained unclear Wednesday.
All but two of the passengers on the plane were Korean, according to the airline. Officials in Korea and Thailand have said there is little hope of finding any survivors.
The man and woman left the plane in the Persian Gulf state of Abu Dhabi. They later flew to nearby Bahrain, where they spent the night before returning to the airport to catch a flight to Amman, Jordan, or Rome. There, they were detained by immigration authorities alerted by Japanese and South Korean officials suspicious of their passports. While awaiting interrogation, the couple bit into cigarettes containing tiny vials of a poison, later found to be cyanide.
The man died, but the unconscious woman was hospitalized and was expected to survive.
Japanese police said Wednesday they believe the man and woman probably were North Korean agents.
“The pattern of their behavior is different from that of Japanese radicals,” a police official said, adding that Japanese radicals would not commit suicide but would go to prison and attempt to enlist sympathizers for their cause.
Some evidence Wednesday suggested that the dead man was Miyamoto, but there were also indications a different man died.
The English-language Korea Times reported that “according to neighbors of Miyamoto, he had a strong physique, wore eyeglasses and limped slightly, having almost identical physical characteristics of the man who swallowed poison during interrogation. . . . “
The Korea Times, however, also reported that after comparing the photo of the dead man with that of Miyamoto, Tokyo police said the male suspect who committed suicide was not Miyamoto.
The Korean-language Hankook Ilbo quoted a hospital official in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, as saying that an autopsy had indicated that the dead man was in his 40s, not 69 as indicated by his fraudulent passport. Miyamoto is believed to be well past his 40s.
Japanese police, according to the Korea Times, said Miyamoto is suspected of helping to arrange jobs for spies sent to Japan by North Korea.
Linked to Rangoon Bomb
Authorities in Japan also said Miyamoto was implicated in a passport forgery case involving North Korean agents in 1985, according to United Press International.
Miyamoto ran garbage-recycling and money-lending businesses out of a three-story building in Tokyo that served as both his home and office, the Korea Times reported. Last year, Japanese police raided the building and confiscated “code books, a cryptogram and other espionage material,” but Miyamoto was not caught, the paper said.
State-run television reported in Seoul that Miyamoto is also suspected of involvement in a 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma, that killed 17 members of a visiting South Korean delegation, including four Cabinet members.
Wire service reports from Tokyo quoted Hachiya as saying Tuesday that in 1983 Miyamoto helped him with documents to obtain a passport, which Hachiya said he still has. This prompted speculation that Miyamoto might have used the documents to fraudulently obtain a second passport in Hachiya’s name.
Assistant Foreign Minister Park Soo Gil said Wednesday that immigration authorities have a record of a visit to South Korea in September, 1984, by a man traveling with a passport in the name of Shinichi Hachiya, and that the man is believed to have been Miyamoto, the Korea Times reported.
“Miyamoto is also said to have been staying in Malaysia in October, 1983, when the notorious Rangoon bombing engineered by North Korea occurred. . . ,” the Korea Times added.
South Korean intelligence officials said they suspect that the woman detained in Bahrain, who was traveling under the name Mayumi Hachiya, might be a Korean resident of Japan they know as Mayumi Akabe, according to the Hankook Ilbo.
State-run television said Akabe had been barred from entering South Korea because of involvement in diamond smuggling, and because she was believed to be a sympathizer of North Korea.