DOJ chief says Japanese detainees may have run crime ring from Philippine jail

Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2023 06:50 PM

MANILA — Several Japanese nationals may have run "criminal enterprises" while detained in the Philippines, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said, after authorities confiscated several communication devices from the detainees on Tuesday. 

Four Japanese men are believed to have remotely coordinated a series of robberies in Japan that began last year using an encrypted messaging app, according to a Kyodo News report. 

At least 6 iPhones were confiscated from one of the Japanese detainees during a surprise inspection at the Bureau of Immigration's (BI) Warden Facility and Protection Unit in Taguig, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla. 

Authorities also found several laptops, cellphones, chargers, and cash in the facility, the Metro Manila police said earlier in the day. 

"I think we were able to agree that it was very possible that criminal enterprises were being ran from the detention centers through the telephones that they had in possession. It’s a very serious breach of discipline with the ranks of the BI and this will be dealt [with] very seriously,” Remulla said in a press conference.

“These fugitives hover in the detention facility of the Bureau of Immigration [and] have telephones with them the whole time. It is already validated, we looked at video recordings of them inside the detention facilities, videotaping themselves… and I think even playing it for public consumption," he added. 

The seizure of contraband items was the result of a "breach of discipline" and is now the "subject of investigation" Remulla said. 

“This reeks of corruption, and the people who are responsible for the behavior of all the people under detention will be dealt with severely once proven that they did not do their jobs in ensuring that the use of communication tools are only use for lawyers and family calls," he said. 

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The 4 Japanese detainees likely include a person or persons thought to have masterminded the robberies under the names "Luffy" and "Kim." 

Tokyo has sought the deportation of the 4 men after Japanese police obtained arrest warrants on suspicion of theft in connection with a scam targeting elderly people in Japan.

Among the 4 detained in the facility, 38-year-old Yuki Watanabe was allegedly one of the leaders of the fraud group, which stole some 3.5 billion yen (P1.4 billion) in around 2,300 cases between November 2018 and June 2020, police said.

The DOJ confirmed that Watanabe and 2 other alleged members of the group were charged with violating the law on violence against women and children. 

An investigative source has told Kyodo News that Watanabe may be hoping the case will enable him to "avoid" being sent back to Japan.

Because Japan does not have an extradition treaty with the Philippines, local cases against the suspects could present obstacles to their swift deportation.

"We are [under] the impression that these cases were invented or are not real cases. They were contrived cases filed against them just to keep them in the Philippines. One of them was dismissed already in Makati City, another was undergoing a hearing for dismissal on Thursday… some of them are still being validated," Remulla said. 


The DOJ is finalizing plans to deport 2 of the 4 Japanese fugitives this week. 

"Hopefully, we can deport 2 by the end of this week. But the other 2, we will see how fast we can act on these matters because we will look at the cases pending before the different bodies in the other parts of the country," Remulla said. 

"One of them may be deported by tomorrow if we get the necessary documentation, the other may be deported by Friday if the case is dismissed by Thursday," he added. 

But in a chance interview on Tuesday afternoon, Remulla said authorities were looking into deporting all 4 Japanese nationals next Monday. 

Authorities aim to finish the whole deportation process of the Japanese fugitives before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s visit to Japan in February, Remulla said. 

— With reports from Jeff Caparas, ABS-CBN News; Kyodo News 

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