The boat in which police confiscated drug is seen at a wharf in Minami Izu town, Shizuoka prefecture, south of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 5, 2019. Japanese authorities have arrested seven Chinese men on suspicion of smuggling what was believed to be a record amount of stimulants in off-shore ship-to-ship transfer off Japanese coast. (Kyodo News via AP) (Associated Press)

TOKYO — Japanese authorities have arrested seven Chinese men on suspicion of smuggling what is believed to be a record amount of stimulants, police and media reports said Wednesday, amid concern about growing drug use among ordinary people following a series of recent arrests of government officials and celebrities.

Tokyo police said seven Chinese were arrested this week on suspicion of possessing “large amounts” of stimulants on the Izu coast, west of Tokyo. Police on a stakeout arrested the men while they were unloading bags from their boat onto the beach, Kyodo News reported.

They allegedly possessed nearly 1 ton (2,450 pounds) of amphetamines, a record one-time seizure in Japan estimated to be worth 60 billion yen ($550 million), according to public broadcaster NHK. The drugs are believed to have been smuggled from Hong Kong, NHK said.

The amount is about the same as the annual total seized over the past three years. Last year, authorities seized 1.1 tons (2,508 pounds) of stimulants, including 784 kilograms (1,728 pounds) smuggled into the country from overseas, according to the National Police Agency.

Drug smuggling has been on the rise, the agency said, with more than 150 people arrested in 2018 for alleged stimulant smuggling from overseas, or 1.6% of the total number of people arrested for violations of stimulant control laws. While most stimulant law violators are linked to gangster groups, the police agency expressed concern about growing drug use among ordinary people and younger age groups.

In late May, police arrested a 44-year-old education ministry bureaucrat for alleged possession of stimulants and marijuana. Days earlier, prosecutors charged a 28-year-old trade ministry official with stimulant use and possession. Popular musician and actor Pierre Taki, whose real name is Masanori Taki, is on trial after being arrested in March for alleged cocaine use.

Illegal drugs are sold at higher prices in Japan than elsewhere, making it a lucrative market, and its coastline provides convenient access for smugglers, experts say.

The arrests of the Chinese suspects were part of an ongoing investigation into international drug rings and gangster groups following reports of suspicious ships in the Izu area.

The previous record one-time seizure was about 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds) of stimulants on a boat docked at a port on Okinawa in southern Japan.

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