Police raided Horkos Corp., a machine tool maker in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, and a dozen other locations Thursday on suspicion the company illegally exported machine tools convertible for use in the development of nuclear weapons.
The Metropolitan Police Department's Public Security Bureau and the Hiroshima Prefectural Police said they are investigating the possibility the tools may have been exported to the Middle East or North Korea by way of South Korea.
The tools, called machining centers and priced at millions of yen each, are typically used to manufacture automotive components and other devices but are also capable of producing components in centrifuges, the separating devices used to make highly enriched uranium.
They are listed as an export-controlled item by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in line with provisions of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law.
A listed item is required to be approved for export by the trade minister. Horkos is suspected of falsely declaring more than one such machine tool as being of a lower caliber that does not require ministerial authorization for export. The tools are believed to have been been shipped to South Korea in 2004.
The buyer was a general company not involved in weapons development, but the machine tools may have been resold, police said.
Questioned by the MPD, Horkos officials in charge of machining center exports admitted they were aware unauthorized exports were being made, police said.
According to the company's Web site, Horkos was set up in 1940 and generated ¥21 billion in sales in the year to last September. The firm had 665 employees.