Japan, US negotiating return of detained Navy officer: sources

Japan, US negotiating return of detained Navy officer: sources

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Japan, US negotiating return of detained Navy officer: sources

Japan is negotiating with the United States the possibility of transferring a U.S. Navy officer, convicted of a fatal car crash in 2021, to his home country at the request of his family and U.S. lawmakers, diplomatic sources said Sunday.

The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has claimed there were no flaws in the criminal proceedings against U.S. Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, 34, but criticism has been growing over his long detention in Japan, with some members of the U.S. Congress also showing their support.

Foreign affairs experts said Japan-U.S. relations would worsen if his detention is prolonged, as President Joe Biden, who was lobbied by Alkonis’ family, has expressed willingness to settle the case as soon as possible.

In October 2021, Alkonis was sentenced to three years in prison for killing two Japanese citizens and injuring another in a car accident in May of that year in the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka.

Alkonis, who belonged to Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, located between Shizuoka and Tokyo, appealed to a higher court, but his sentence was finalized in July 2022.

Alkonis’ defense team argued that he had suffered from acute mountain sickness and lost consciousness while driving, although Japanese courts determined that he fell asleep at the wheel and lost control of his vehicle.

Alkonis could be allowed to return to the United States, given that he has shown remorse and reached an out-of-court settlement with the bereaved family of the victims, the sources said.

Among U.S. Congress members, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said he met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in August last year and demanded an early transfer of Alkonis to the United States.

Lee has stressed the need to review the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which stipulates how to deal with U.S. military service members who commit crimes.