Japan city politician arrested in China on drugs charges

TOKYO (AFP) - A 70-year-old local Japanese politician has been arrested in China on drugs charges, officials said on Friday, in a case that could draw the death penalty.

The septuagenarian, who was detained at the airport on Oct 31 in the southern metropolis Guangzhou, had 3kg of what are suspected to be illegal stimulants, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, citing the Chinese authorities.

"At present, the local authorities are going through legal procedures to put him on trial," a Japanese official said.

He did not identify the suspect.

But officials in the central Japanese city of Inazawa identified the man as Mr Takuma Sakuragi and said the city councillor was in China for his private trading business.

A city council spokesman said Mr Sakuragi has denied the charges.

The case comes after four Japanese nationals were executed in China in 2010 for carrying illegal drugs.

Possession of 50 or more grammes of so-called stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine can draw the death penalty in China, which is known for its harsh drug laws.

Japanese media quoted a longtime associate of Mr Sakuragi as saying the five-term city politician may have been framed due to his hardline stance on diplomacy with neighbours China and South Korea.

Tokyo is embroiled in separate territorial rows with Beijing and Seoul, which routinely accuse Japan of failing to atone for its military aggression during the first half of the 20th Century.

"I am very surprised (at the arrest)," the suspect's associate Kenji Sasaki told Japan's Jiji Press news agency.

"There might be some political angle to this case."