Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Japan is holding a North Korean man in custody for fraud, as the number of North Korean fishing vessels in Japan-claimed waters reached a record in 2018.
In a sign Tokyo may be stepping up pressure on the Kim Jong Un regime as denuclearization talks are delayed, Japanese police arrested a North Korean passport holder for working as a "key North Korean agent," Kyodo News reported Thursday.
The man is 65 and was purchasing a large amount of cosmetics using someone else's credit card in June, according to police in Chiba prefecture.
Investigators suspect fraud, but they are also considering pressing other charges, including foreign exchange law violations. They suspect the defendant has been buying goods to export to North Korea, using channels in Beijing.
Japan has banned all exports to the North at least since the regime conducted nuclear tests in 2017.
Police also said the suspect's phone records show in 2012 he contacted Kenji Fujimoto, the Japanese national who once worked as former leader Kim Jong Il's personal chef, on behalf of the North Korean leadership.
Fujimoto, who wrote a memoir after escaping the North, said he would receive messages from intermediaries, asking him when he intends to "keep his promise" and return to North Korea.
The arrest comes at a time a record number of North Korean fishing vessels are reported to be drifting into Japan-claimed waters, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.
A record number of boats are drifting into Japanese waters, 169 in 2018, more than the reported 104 boats that wandered into Japanese waters in 2017, according to the Yomiuri.
Authorities say owing to strong winds that blow through waters from December to February, they expect more North Korean fishing vessels to drift into areas near Japan.
Defectors and analysts have said North Korean fishing activities are a significant source of foreign currency earnings for the impoverished country.