Charges in Manila may stall deportation of robbery mastermind 'Luffy'

Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 29 2023 04:35 PM | Updated as of Jan 29 2023 09:15 PM

MANILA/SEOUL - The deportation of Yuki Watanabe, alias "Luffy," the suspected mastermind behind a string of robberies in Japan who is now in detention in the Philippines, could be derailed by charges he faces in a separate case in the Southeast Asian country, according to a Philippine investigative source.

Watanabe has been charged with violating the law on violence against women and children, according to a local court. The investigative source said that Watanabe may be hoping that the case will be a "way to avoid" being sent back to Japan. It was not clear when the case was filed against him.

A South Korean reporter who was once detained at the same immigration facility in Manila as Watanabe, meanwhile, told Kyodo News that foreign detainees who face cases in their home countries often ask Filipino residents to trump up charges against them to prolong their detention.

"That kind of arrangement can be easily made by paying 1 million won ($812)," Kim Yoon Young said, adding that trials in such cases can then be delayed using excuses such as ill health. One such person has been detained for nearly 10 years using such methods, he said.

Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told Kyodo News on Saturday that he will discuss the deportation of Watanabe with the Japanese Embassy in Manila.

But a Philippine government source told Kyodo that the local case against Watanabe complicates the possible handover.

The source said since Japan and the Philippines do not have an extradition treaty, the only plausible way to hand over Watanabe is through deportation once the local case is cleared.

The South Korean reporter said that based on what he has heard from an acquaintance currently being held in Watanabe's immigration facility, Watanabe is living in a so-called "VIP room," where air-conditioning expenses are very costly, at 100,000 yen ($770) per month.

Kim, who was detained between May and September of 2019, said most people were placed in cells under unsanitary conditions, often attracting rats.

During his detention, Kim said he was able to use a mobile phone and even witnessed a Japanese group apparently involved in a fraud operation.

Japanese police have requested the transfer of Watanabe and three other men to Japan from Manila, after obtaining arrest warrants on suspicion of theft in connection with a scam targeting elderly people in Japan.

The four are also believed to be behind a spate of robberies starting last year, paying individuals to carry them out in a similar fashion to the way they had recruited people in the alleged scam operation.

Given that Watanabe faced a deportation order in May 2021, the investigative source said he was "surprised" that Watanabe has still not been sent to Japan.

According to Japan's National Police Agency, at least 20 cases of theft and robbery in 14 prefectures have occurred since last year, including the murder-robbery of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio at home in the city of Komae in western Tokyo on Jan. 19

Over 30 suspects have been arrested in connection with the crimes.