Japan firm gets control of debt-ridden de facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo: reports

The building of North Korea's de facto embassy, occupied by Chongryon, Japan's North Korean residents community in Tokyo on March 24, 2014. A Japanese real estate company on Friday took over ownership of a Tokyo property that has served as North
The building of North Korea's de facto embassy, occupied by Chongryon, Japan's North Korean residents community in Tokyo on March 24, 2014. A Japanese real estate company on Friday took over ownership of a Tokyo property that has served as North Korea's de facto embassy for decades, after a forced auction to repay outstanding debts, reports said. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese real estate company on Friday took over ownership of a Tokyo property that has served as North Korea's de facto embassy for decades, after a forced auction to repay outstanding debts, reports said.

The sprawling downtown site - a 2,390-square-metre plot and 10-storey building - was officially transferred to Marunaka Holdings, after the company paid 2.21 billion yen (S$24.3 million) for the site, public broadcaster NHK and other Japanese media reported.

Neither the Tokyo District Court nor the property developer's lawyer could immediately confirm the ownership transfer.

However, the reports followed a Supreme Court decision this month to uphold the sale order.

The property is still occupied by Chongryon - the organisation that represents North Korean interests in Japan in the absence of diplomatic ties - and it was unclear if the organisation would vacate the site.

A Chongryon spokesman said Friday that the organisation has not been informed of the official change in ownership.

"So we are in not in a place to make any comment on this matter," he told AFP.

The group was ordered to sell the property to pay outstanding loans dating back to the collapse of Japan's bubble economy at the end of the 1990s.

Earlier reports said the Japanese real-estate firm was planning to remove the North Korean-linked organisation from the property.

A series of auctions for the property were organised, with prospective buyers submitting offers for the building, which appears to have changed little inside since it was built in the mid-1980s.

Portraits of the founding father of North Korea, Kim Il Sung and his successor-son, Kim Jong Il, loomed over journalists at a rare press conference earlier this year inside the building in central Tokyo that is officially the headquarters of pro-Pyongyang Koreans who live in Japan.

At the briefing, Chongryon called a lower court's decision to let the developer take over the property an "unbearable act of animosity against our country".

In March, the district court accepted the developer's offer, and rejected a huge bid from an obscure Mongolia-registered company because it appeared to have links to Pyongyang.

Japanese law forbids participation of the seller in the bidding of a forced auction.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans live in Japan, mostly a legacy of those who emigrated or were forced to move to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

About 10 percent are believed to be affiliated with Chongryon, which charges that the community is persecuted by authorities and harassed by right-wing activists.