TOKYO – At least 14 Japanese companies, including two media outlets, have in recent days received extortion letters along with highly toxic powder in some cases, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported on Tuesday.
Police sources said the letters demanded thousands of dollars in form of cryptocurrency or electronic cash, and envelopes contained potassium cyanide, a substance which can prove to be highly lethal if ingested.
The companies which received the extortion letters included two widely circulated newspapers, Asahi and Mainachi.
Asahi confirmed on Tuesday that a letter containing a white powder had arrived at its headquarters in Tokyo, while Mainachi had confirmed receiving a similar packet on Friday.
Similar envelopes have been sent to many pharmaceutical companies and a food company, according to cases made public in recent days.
Police suspect all the envelopes were sent by the same person or the entity because the contents of the letters appeared similar even as they carried different addresses, such as detention facilities in Tokyo.
Police are investigating the cases as attempted extortion and are looking into possible sources of potassium cyanide.
Police sources said all the letters demanded a sum of $31,000 to be paid in the form of Bitcoins from the recipients, and threatened to send “drugs laced with potassium cyanide,” without mentioning the medium.
But, according to police, the QR code sent as a payment method wasn’t scannable.
The Mainachi reported that the letter it received was sent under the name of Shoko Asahara, leader of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) sect, which carried out the deadly sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 13 people and poisoning thousands.
Asahara was executed on July 6, 2018 along with six other members of the group convicted for the attack.
Asahi said the letter received at its headquarters carried the name of a “former executive” of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, without identifying the person.
Founded in 1984, Aum Shinrikyo became capable of developing chemical and biological weapons in just a decade. It even presented a list of candidates for the 1990 general election but did not win any seats in parliament.