“Luffy” serial robberies and Japanese fugitives in PH
Japanese police have established a link between a run of robberies that have occurred in 14 prefectures throughout the country and a number of Japanese nationals presently held in an immigration facility in the Philippines.
The case of Yuki Watanabe, the accused leader behind the thefts who goes by the moniker “Luffy” – a character from the popular Japanese manga “One Piece” – might easily serve as the basis for a television crime drama.
The truth, however, is far different, as the case has once again shed light on corruption in the Philippines’ immigration department and persisting justice system flaws.
Since then, Philippine officials, notably Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, have decided to collaborate with Japanese authorities, who have demanded the deportation of Watanabe and three others.
In recent days, the robberies made news in Japan as police released the results of their investigations.
What are “Luffy” robberies and how are they related to the Philippines? Here is what we currently know about the case:
No confirmation yet on ‘Luffy’ in the Philippines
Watanabe, a certain Kiyoto Imamura, and at least two other men who were thought to be engaged in at least 20 robberies around Japan since 2022 have outstanding arrest warrants in Japan.
According to Japanese media, Watanabe, formerly known as “Luffy,” is one of seventeen Japanese nationals now detained by the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
In an interview with reporters on Monday, January 30, Remulla stated that Philippine officials had not yet identified which of the 17 detained Japanese is the guy Japanese authorities believed to be “Luffy.”
Remulla stated, “I cannot confirm it since the crimes are occurring in Japan and only the Japanese police can identify the perpetrators.”
All four sought suspects in Japan were considered to be top members of a fraud ring whose 36 members were detained in the Philippines in 2019. Watanabe was arrested in April 2021, according to Remulla.
Robbery masterminds may be operating from Manila
Japanese media reports provided an insight into the thefts allegedly planned by jailed Japanese in Manila.
Journalists in Japan reported, citing findings from a police investigation, that investigators investigated the phones of other persons detained in connection with robberies beginning in 2022 and discovered that some of them got orders from “Luffy” as well as “Kim” and “Mitsuhashi.”
The reported “Luffy” and “Kim” phone numbers believed to have originated in the Philippines. The Japanese police suspect that the two may be the same individual or associates.
The Yomiuri Shimbun claimed that in recent years, criminal organizations have utilized abroad locations to escape discovery by Japanese authorities.
Instructions sent through Telegram
In the course of their investigations, police in Japan also stated they uncovered that persons who carried out the robberies replied to adverts throughout the internet offering money to carry out “dark” part-time occupations that often featured unlawful actions.
After submitting a job application, candidates were instructed to download the encrypted chat app Telegram, where more instructions were provided. Messages were then automatically removed after a predetermined amount of time.
Individuals were also forced to provide personal information, including information about their families, via the app in order to prevent them from communicating with police or leaving the organization.
Over thirty people have been apprehended in connection with the wave of robberies that have targeted at least twenty residences. One case in particular saw a 90-year-old lady slain in her home in Tokyo last January 19.
Suspected leaders of the string of robberies were able to control operations despite being detained in Manila because they had access to smartphones – an almost common occurrence in Philippine detention centers, where use of communication devices is prohibited, but not impossible, particularly in cases where detainees bribe staff.
Considering the significance of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Japan, Remulla stated that he hoped to address the matter of handing over the four suspects to Japanese authorities as soon as feasible.
“Japan is the Philippines’ buddy. If they inform us that they are concerned about fugitives from justice who are under Philippine jurisdiction, this is cause for alarm.”
The result of the transfer of wanted Japanese for both Manila and Tokyo is crucial. Remulla stated that he intends to address case-related concerns before to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to Japan in early February.
On Monday, the Japanese embassy in Manila and the Department of Justice convened a “coordination meeting” during which Japan handed the Philippines with arrest warrants for four of its citizens.