A former sushi chef to ex-leader Kim Jong Il was seen at his restaurant in Pyongyang, a pro-Pyongyang paper based in Japan reported Thursday. File Photo by Viktoria Gaman/Shutterstock
July 18 (UPI) -- A Japanese national who once served as sushi chef to former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is well and alive, according to a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan.
Choson Sinbo reported Thursday Kenji Fujimoto, who had allegedly gone missing after August 2018, was seen making sushi at a restaurant in the capital city of Pyongyang.
The Choson Sinbo is a newspaper published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon. The staff has greater access to the reclusive regime than other media outside North Korea.
On Thursday the paper condemned news services in Japan and South Korea for "false reporting" on Fujimoto.
"Media in Japan and South Korea are 'playing catch' by spreading a wild rumor while expanding on fake news," the Choson Sinbo said. "Mr. Fujimoto continues to make sushi at a restaurant in Pyongyang."
The paper did not refer to Fujimoto's restaurant by name. The Japanese citizen opened Takahashi, in central Pyongyang, where the elites can dine on tasting menus that cost up to $150 per person, according to Daily Shincho in Japan. The nominal GDP per capita in North Korea is $1,600.
In June, sources who spoke to the Daily Shincho said Takahashi had "permanently closed" and that Fujimoto had become unreachable. They also said Fujimoto was detained, under suspicion of sharing intelligence with the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.
Fujimoto is one of the few foreigners who have had close access to Kim Jong Un.
The regime's ruling elite has been able to enjoy luxuries in an otherwise impoverished country because of the country's ability to circumvent sanctions.
Voice of America reported Thursday ships blacklisted under U.S. sanctions have been traveling without turning on their automatic identification system.
AIS is an automatic tracking system that uses transponders on ships and is used by vessel traffic services.
The impounded ship Wise Honest had turned off its transponders while operating, before it was confiscated by the United States, according to the report.