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TOKYO – A Japanese man released by North Korea after being accused of a crime arrived in Beijing from Pyongyang on Tuesday and is expected to return home, reports said.
Tomoyuki Sugimoto had been in North Korean custody for an investigation into the unspecified crime, but the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday the country decided to be lenient and expel him for humanitarian reasons.
Kyodo News said Sugimoto confirmed his identity to its reporters who were on the same Air Koryo flight. NHK television quoted a Japanese diplomat as confirming the man's identity and describing his health as "not bad." He is expected to return home later Tuesday, reports said.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he could not comment "because of the nature of the matter." He only said that protection of Japanese nationals is the government's biggest responsibility.
Kyodo reported Sugimoto was escorted by North Korean authorities and showed up just before the gate closed for departure carrying a single bag. He was seated in economy-class but an official of the state-run Air Koryo sat in the row behind him and watched over him, Kyodo said.
He was silent during the trip except for asking a Kyodo reporter's identity before boarding the flight, the news agency said.
Earlier reports say Sugimoto was believed to be a videographer and was arrested in the North's western port city of Nampo, where North Korea may have suspected him of filming a military facility. Kyodo, quoting an unidentified Japanese government source, said Sugimoto was on a North Korea tour arranged by a China-based travel agent.
The Japanese government reportedly had sought his release through the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.
In December 1999, a Japanese correspondent for the Nikkei newspaper was detained in North Korea for more than two years on spying charges in Pyongyang. Separately, Japan and North Korea have also disputed over abductions of Japanese citizens decades ago.
North Korea has also arrested other foreign nationals. Three Korean-Americans accused of anti-state activities and detained for more than a year were released and returned home in May. American college student Otto Warmbier, accused of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the North, died in June 2017 days after he was repatriated to the U.S. with severe brain damage.
Their arrests had compounded the dire state of relations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
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