(ATTN: ADDS remarks by prime minister in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- An opposition lawmaker claimed Thursday he has identified data from a Japanese agency showing that Japanese firms allegedly smuggled strategic items to North Korea that include hydrogen fluoride, a material subject to Tokyo's export curbs on South Korea.
The revelation came in an apparent bid to counter the suspicion raised by Japan that hydrogen fluoride shipped to South Korea from Tokyo was funneled to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions. The material can be used to produce chemical weapons.
The South Korean government rebutted Japan's claim as groundless on Tuesday.
Japan began to restrict exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials used in smartphone displays and chips last week, in apparent response to the South Korean top court's order for Japanese firms to compensate victims of Tokyo's wartime forced labor.
Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party claimed Japanese authorities uncovered suspected smuggling of strategic items by Japanese firms to North Korea, citing data from the Center for Information on Security Trade Control, a non-governmental organization in Japan that tracks data on export controls.
"Japan is making the preposterous claim that hydrogen fluoride imported by South Korea may have been illegally shipped to North Korea. But the Japanese data show that the smuggling of hydrogen fluoride to North Korea was caught in Japan," Ha told a press briefing at the National Assembly.
The data showed that a North Korean ship was caught shipping 50 kilograms of sodium fluoride at a port in Osaka in 1996 and another North Korean vessel was found shipping 50 kilograms of hydrofluoric acid at a Kobe port the same year.
A lyophilizer and a tank lorry were also illegally exported to North Korea in 2002 and 2008, respectively, it said.
The data cited by Ha could not be independently verified.
Japan's BS Fuji TV raised further questions about South Korea's management of strategic items on Wednesday, citing data from the Korean government over smuggled cases of such items over the past four years.
But the data actually listed cases in which the Korean authorities took administrative action against exporters who were caught illegally shipping strategic items.
At a parliamentary interpellation session on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon once again flatly rejected the speculation raised by Japan.
"Whenever firms have attempted to illegally ship strategic items, South Korean authorities have caught them and have been working to implement sanctions under the U.N. sanctions regime," Lee said.
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