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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Investigates Espionage at Nikon

TOKYO -- Tokyo police on Thursday asked prosecutors to investigate a former employee of Nikon on suspicion of stealing a high-tech device from the electronics company and giving it to a former Russian trade official.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police filed papers with the public prosecutors office against the Nikon employee and a former member of Russia's Trade Representation office in Tokyo, said a police spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

The men, whose names were not disclosed, conspired in the theft of the device, called a variable optical attenuator, the police spokesman said.

The device, which is still in the development stage, is used to help stabilize optical transmissions in long-distance fiber optic communications, Nikon spokeswoman Sayaka Suzuki said. The former employee is believed to have stolen the device while he worked at Nikon in February last year, and given it to the Russian trade official, Suzuki said.

Police believe the two men met "dozens of times," and that the Russian official paid the Nikon employee an undisclosed amount for acquiring the device, Kyodo News agency said.

Thursday's police action came after Nikon, the Tokyo-based maker of cameras and precision instruments, filed a complaint with police against the employee on July 7, Suzuki said. She said the employee had left the company for "personal reasons" last March.

Police suspect the Russian official, who has already left Japan, may have thought about converting the civilian-use device into a defense technology, Kyodo News agency said.

An official at the Russian Trade Representation office refused to comment on the case.

Nikon said in a statement that it would fully cooperate with a police investigation, while stepping up its in-house management of products and equipment. Suzuki said the company could not disclose how the device, if fully developed, would be used.

It was the sixth case since 1989 that Japanese police have opened into suspected espionage involving members of the Russian trade office.

Last October, police accused a member of the trade office of buying company secrets from a worker at a subsidiary of Japanese electronics maker Toshiba. The 35-year-old Russian, who arrived in Japan in October 2003 and left in June last year, is thought to have links with Russia's foreign intelligence service, Kyodo News reported in October.

The 30-year-old Japanese man worked for Toshiba Discrete Semiconductor Technology Corp., and was suspected of selling secrets to the Russian nine times from September 2004 to May 2005 for a total of 1 million yen ($8,700), police said.

Kyodo said the man sold secrets related to a type of semiconductor technology that could be used in radars of military submarines, fighter aircraft or missile guidance systems. Toshiba, however, said the leaked information was for semiconductors used in digital cameras, mobile phones and electric cookers and had no conceivable military applications.