Photo/IllutrationPolice lay out the stimulants found on a boat abandoned by seven Chinese nationals who were arrested in early June on suspicion of possession of stimulants with intent to sell. (Provided by the Metropolitan Police Department)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A report of a suspicious boat and 18 months of close coordination between police, customs officials and the Japan Coast Guard led to the recent record bust of stimulants, according to sources close to the investigation.

Between June 3 and 4, seven Chinese nationals ranging in age from 25 to 40 were arrested at a harbor in Minami-Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on suspicion of possessing 1 ton in stimulants with a street value of about 60 billion yen ($554 million). The seizure was the largest ever of stimulants in Japan.

According to investigative sources, the group first came on the radar of law enforcement in November 2017 when a Minami-Izu resident reported a suspicious boat entering and leaving the harbor.

That tip led to the start of a joint investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department, the Japan Coast Guard and Tokyo Customs.

Surveillance confirmed that a suspicious boat was entering and leaving the harbor. A dozen or so suspicious individuals were placed on a surveillance list.

Included in that list was one man who frequently traveled between Japan and Hong Kong. The man was followed whenever he entered Japan.

Amid that ongoing investigation, law enforcement learned that the seven arrested flew separately to Japan from Hong Kong from early May, about one month before their eventual arrest. They were found to have looked over the harbor in Minami-Izu as well as frequented a members-only cruising club in Yokohama. The group anchored a boat registered in Aichi Prefecture at the club.

Early on May 31, three men boarded the boat and departed from the Yokohama club. The following morning, the boat was spotted on a brief refueling stop at Hachijojima island, south of the Izu Peninsula.

The boat was found to have then traveled about 600 kilometers farther south in the Pacific where those on board were spotted dropping something into the water and later retrieving it.

On the evening of June 3, the boat entered the harbor at Minami-Izu, where police were waiting. They arrested two men who began unloading the cargo to a nearby car as well as two others on the boat.

One man who fled from the boat as well as two others who served as lookouts were also arrested the next day.

The ton of stimulants had been packed into 500 smaller bags containing 2 kilograms each.

Police believe the stimulants were transported to the boat out at sea and are continuing their investigation into whether Hong Kong was the initial source of the smuggled stimulants.

The seven arrested suspects have denied the allegations against them.

(This article was written by Chihaya Inagaki and Yuko Kawasaki.)