North Korea may have detained two prominent foreigners, according to multiple press reports. File Photo by Franck Robichon
June 26 (UPI) -- High-profile foreigners with business ties to North Korea have reportedly gone missing, including Kenji Fujimoto, the former sushi chef to former leader Kim Jong Il, and Alek Sigley, an Australian exchange student who operated a tour company and tweeted frequently about the regime.
Japanese magazine Daily Shincho reported Wednesday Fujimoto may be being held incommunicado after August 2018, when he last entered the country.
Fujimoto began to rebuild his relationship in 2012 with the ruling Kim family after severing ties with the regime for more than a decade. The sushi chef opened a restaurant, Takahashi, in central Pyongyang, where the elites could dine on tasting menus that cost up to $150 per person, according to Daily Shincho.
Sources who spoke to the Japanese magazine said Takahashi had recently "permanently closed." Fujimoto's acquaintances in Japan said he has been unreachable.
A second source who also spoke on the condition of anonymity said Fujimoto could have been under suspicion of sharing intelligence with the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.
Fujimoto is one of the few foreigners who had close access to Kim Jong Un.
North Korea has not recently detained foreigners since the death of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier in 2017. But according to a South Korean press report, Australian exchange student Alek Sigley could be in North Korea detention.
South Korean television network Channel A reported Wednesday Sigley went missing after tweeting about the renovations at Pyongyang's Ryugyong Hotel. The tweet was posted Monday and no updates followed.
According to Channel A, an "influential source on North Korea" said Sigley was "recently arrested," and that the British Embassy in Pyongyang was "handling the case."
Sigley was active on social media and displayed affinity for the North Korean regime. He and his wife, a Japanese national, celebrated their marriage at a wedding in North Korea, according to uploaded footage.
Sigley also founded and operated Tongil Tours. His tweets indicate he was expecting to take a group to various locations around North Korea.