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Illegal export of U.S. infrared camera to China reveals legal loopholes

  • December 21, 2017
  • , Yomiuri evening edition , p. 13
  • JMH Translation

The illegal export of a U.S.-made infrared camera to China in violation of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law has revealed that while there are strict procedures governing the import of military equipment, it is very easy to evade regulations in the disposal of such equipment. Despite the presence of a document indicating that the infrared camera had been disposed of, it showed up on an Internet auction site after passing through the hands of six companies. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has acknowledged that there are issues with the disposal procedures and is taking steps to prevent the recurrence of similar cases.


The camera in question was a “Star SAFIRE III” manufactured by FLIR Systems, which is thermal sensitive and used by U.S. military helicopters and reconnaissance planes for nighttime warfare. It is on a list of items that require permission to export, and under U.S. rules on international arms transactions, resale and disposal require the permission of the State Department.


A Chinese student, 22, in Adachi Ward in Tokyo purchased this infrared camera for about 550,000 yen in an auction. He exported it to Hong Kong and the camera was ultimately resold to a military-related company in Guangzhou City for about 2.5 million yen.


The camera was originally purchased through legal procedures by a Japanese trading firm, and it was installed on a disaster relief helicopter of the MLIT Shikoku Development Bureau in September 2006.


The helicopter was upgraded in September 2015, so there was no longer any need for the camera. The MLIT asked Mitsubishi Electric, from which it procured new equipment, to dispose of the camera. Mitsubishi subcontracted the disposal to a waste disposal company in Adachi Ward through one of its subcontractors dealing in video equipment.


The waste disposal company submitted a signed certificate attesting to the destruction of the camera to the video equipment company and Mitsubishi. The MLIT in turn submitted this certificate to the U.S. State Department, completing the disposal procedures.


However, in reality, the camera was sold with other waste materials to a company in Itabashi Ward for 50,000 yen. It landed in the hands of a transportation company and eventually, a second-hand shop in Koshigaya , Saitama Prefecture, put it up for auction. This shop told Yomiuri Shimbun that it was not aware that this was military equipment and that it is not unusual for items to pass through the hands of several waste disposal companies.


Mitsubishi Electric and the MLIT, which received the certificate of disposal, also had no knowledge about the Internet auction.


In light of this incident, the MLIT has instructed all its Regional Development Bureaus that the main contractor will be required to actually witness the disposal and present photographic evidence. (Slightly abridged)

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