Japan has demanded an apology from Russia after its diplomat was blindfolded and physically restrained during an interrogation and accused of being a spy, deepening a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Tatsunori Motoki, who worked at the Japanese consulate general, was detained in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east on allegations that he obtained classified information about Russia, the foreign ministry in Moscow said.
On Monday, Russia‘s foreign ministry notified Japan‘s embassy in Moscow that the official had been declared “persona non grata”, or an undesirable person, on grounds that he conducted illegal espionage activity, and ordered him to leave the country within 48 hours.
According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), he was detained while receiving classified information about “Russia’s cooperation with an Asia Pacific country” and the impacts of the west’s sanction policy on the economic situation in the maritime territory. It was alleged that he was caught paying money for it, Tass news agency reported.
Japan lodged a formal protest with Russia on Tuesday and rejected the espionage allegations against him.
Japan’s foreign ministry said the diplomat was arrested on 22 September and was interrogated with his eyes covered, his hands and head pressed and immobilised.
“The alleged illegal activity insisted by the Russian side is completely groundless,” chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.
Mr Matsuno said Japan‘s vice foreign minister Takeo Mori summoned Russia‘s ambassador to Japan, Mikhail Galuzin, to demand a formal apology from the Russian government and measures to prevent a repeat of the incident.
Describing Russian authorities’ treatment of the consulate official as “intimidating” during the interrogation, he said such handling of consular officials violates the Vienna convention and a Japanese-Russian treaty over consular affairs. “It is extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable,” Mr Matsuno said.
Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said: “There is absolutely no evidence that there was any engagement in illegal activities as the Russians claim.”
Tass news agency reported the official confessed to violating Russian laws and that he was captured red-handed on camera in a restaurant.
The incident marks another blow to Japan-Russia ties which have deteriorated since Tokyo joined the west in slapping sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.
In response to the sanctions, the Kremlin has repeatedly referred to Japan as a “hostile” country, a designation it has also given to the US and EU countries and their allies.
The Japanese government banned the export of materials that could be used for chemical weapons to 21 Russian entities in the latest sanctions on Monday.