Photo/IllutrationA hot spring resort in Yantai, Shandong province, lies in a mountainous area. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

YANTAI, China--A 73-year-old employee of a Japanese geological survey company was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for spying.

The verdict was handed down May 17 by the equivalent of a district court in Yantai, Shandong province, according to sources in close contact with China.

Authorities also seized 30,000 yuan (about 480,000 yen or $4,400) in assets from the man.

The sources said he worked for NC Geophysical Survey Co., headquartered in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, and was detained in March 2017 after he went to Yantai to assist in a joint survey with a company based in Dalian, Liaoning province, that develops hot spring resorts.

The man was detained with two others who accompanied him from Japan. In addition, three other Japanese also involved in a separate surveying study in Hainan island were detained.

Four of those Japanese were released in July 2017, but the 73-year-old man as well as one Japanese detained in Hainan were indicted.

According to the digital version of the Global Times, which is affiliated with the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, investigators found a large amount of classified information, including close to 80 maps, on the computers of the two Japanese men who were indicted.

However, sources said the latest court ruling gave no clear explanation of what information was designated as being classified.

Nine Japanese have been formally charged with spying in China since 2015.

The 73-year-old man was the sixth for whom a verdict has been handed down.