A Japanese firm is being probed on suspicion of falsely declaring that it was planning to sell a ship to a company in the United Arab Emirates before selling the vessel to a company in Iran, an investigative source said Wednesday.

The Osaka-based firm was searched by police Tuesday on suspicion of violating the customs law after allegedly making a false declaration around May 2021 that it was selling a 499-ton used cargo ship to a company in the UAE, the source said.

While selling ships to Iranian companies is not prohibited in Japan, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, many Iranian entities are listed due to concerns that exported technology could be redirected to the development of weapons of mass destruction.

File photo taken April 26, 2019, shows Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Tokyo. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The ship purchased by the Osaka firm through an auction was constructed in 1997 and previously owned by entities including the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency.

The firm, which says on its website that it acts as an intermediary in the sale of ships to companies in the UAE, China, Singapore and other countries, has declined to comment on the matter.

An official of the agency that sold the ship to the firm said, "It is true that we sold the vessel through an auction. We are cooperating with the investigation and unable to provide details."

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