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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Embassy warns of Roppongi drink-lacing


Staff writer

The U.S. Embassy informed Americans in Japan on Tuesday that it has recommended that its employees avoid frequenting bars and clubs in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district because of a significant increase in drink-spiking incidents.

It said U.S. nationals "may choose" to avoid drinking establishments in the area as well.

The rare warning was delivered via e-mail to citizens of the United States registered to receive notices from the American Citizen Services Department. These include alerts on issues ranging from terrorism and pandemics to information on income tax returns.

"The number of reports of U.S. citizens being drugged in bars has increased significantly in recent weeks," the embassy said in the message.

However, the Azabu Police Station, which covers Roppongi, said there have been no reports of drink-spiking in the district in the past few weeks.

Typically, the victim unknowingly drinks a beverage that has been secretly mixed with a drug that causes unconsciousness for several hours, during which the victim's credit cards are used or stolen, the embassy said. Victims sometimes regain consciousness in a bar or nightclub, but at other times victims wake up on the street, it said.

"If you, nevertheless, choose to participate in Roppongi night life, we urge you to remain extra vigilant of your surroundings and maintain a high level of situational awareness," the embassy said. "Establishments in the area of Roppongi Intersection have had the highest level of reported incidents."

"This is a strange e-mail," said an American who received the notice, adding that he has heard of drink-spiking in Roppongi before.

"Crime in Roppongi seems to be a recurring problem . . . so we feel that it's prudent to alert the U.S. nationals" on drink-spiking, embassy spokeswoman Lori Shoemaker said.

Britain and Australia have warnings about drink-spiking on their Web sites, but both follow the drink-spiking warnings with assurances that Japan's crime rate is generally low.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Britain writes on its Web site that British nationals should take sensible precautions in "visiting bars and restaurants in the Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo. There have been reports of drink-spiking with drugs such as Rohypnol," a date-rape drug.



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