Marubeni Says China May Have Detained Three Grains Unit Staff

Marubeni Corp., Japan’s biggest agricultural trader, said three employees of its Columbia Grain Trading Inc. unit may have been detained by Chinese customs authorities in the city of Tsingtao.

The Tokyo-based company is currently checking the details of the case, said the official, who asked not to be named because of internal policy. The three Chinese female members of staff are from the Dalian representative office of Columbia Grain Trading, said the official.

Reuters reported earlier today that three employees at one of Marubeni’s grain trading units in China had been detained, citing a company spokesman. The move was prompted by allegations the unit evaded taxes on soy bean imports, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.

Ties between China and Japan are already strained amid a territorial dispute over an island chain and visits by Japanese politicians to a Tokyo shrine honoring that country’s war dead. A Chinese court released a Japanese ship owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. after the cargo carrier paid compensation for the loss of two vessels leased from a Chinese company before the two countries went to war in 1937.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang declined to comment when asked about the case at a briefing today and China’s customs authorities had no immediate comment when contacted by phone.

Mitsui O.S.K. paid 2.9 billion yen ($28 million) as judgment and 2.4 million yuan ($384,585) in court fees, according to a statement posted on the microblog of the Supreme People’s Court. The 226,434-ton Baosteel Emotion, impounded April 19 at Majishan port in Zhejiang province, left the port at 3:55 p.m. Japan time, the Tokyo-based shipping company said in a statement.

It was the first time a Chinese court had ordered the seizure of Japanese assets connected to World War II.

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