Japanese 'Luffy' criminal ringleaders deported from Philippines

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 07 2023 10:27 AM | Updated as of Feb 07 2023 05:27 PM

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MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — Two of the 4 suspects believed to be behind a spate of robberies and telephone fraud cases across Japan were deported from the Philippines on Tuesday.

Japanese news outlets and social media have been captivated by the crimes that allegedly involved ringleaders based in the Southeast Asian country.

Low-level criminals arrested in Japan told police they received instructions from a person or several people who used the name "Luffy" via the Telegram messenger app. 

Monkey D. Luffy is the lead character of the hugely popular "One Piece" manga, a straw hat-wearing pirate hunting for a coveted treasure.

Officials escorted Kiyoto Imamura and Toshiya Fujita, who were both handcuffed, into a Japan Airlines jet at Manila airport, and the pair arrived at Narita airport outside Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon, TV footage showed.

Japan's justice ministry and Tokyo police declined to comment on the case, but local media said the 2 men were formally arrested after the plane left Philippine airspace.

"Green curtains were pulled around the suspects, except for during take-off and landing," reported a journalist for Japan's public broadcaster NHK who travelled on the plane.

After the arrest took place behind the curtains, the suspects were served meals, the journalist said.

But he added: "Due to safety concerns, items such as hot soup or toothpicks had been removed. Plastic spoons and forks were used, rather than the usual metal ones."

All 4 suspects were held at an immigration detention facility in Manila.

They were caught with cell phones inside that facility that may have been used to run "criminal enterprises", Philippines Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla told reporters last week. 

Criminals were reportedly given orders to carry out break-ins or fraud. NHK said more than 70 people have been apprehended.

The group was thought to be behind 2,300 cases of fraud worth 3.5 billion yen (around P1.4 billion), NHK said.

It has also been connected to a series of break-ins in Tokyo, including one that ended with the murder of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio, who was found dead at her home on Jan. 19.

As Japan and the Philippines do not have an extradition treaty, local cases already filed against the suspects had to be cleared before they could leave.

The other 2 suspects could be deported as early as Wednesday, the same day Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is due to depart on a state visit to Tokyo.

 

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PASAY COURT JUNKS VAWC CASES VS 2 MORE JAPANESE FUGITIVES

Barely an hour after the deportation of the 2 Japanese fugitives, Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 109 came out with a ruling junking the VAWC cases against 2 more Japanese, Yuki Watanabe and Tomononu Saito.

Watanabe is allegedly “Luffy,” the supposed ringleader of the Japanese robbery group, while Saito is allegedly a member of the group.

Both were arrested in 2021 and faced VAWC cases filed by their former partners before the same court. 

In separate 5-page resolutions, Pasay RTC Br. 109 Judge Christopher Castañeda granted the prosecution’s motions to withdraw information against the 1, both filed on Feb. 2.

The judge took note of the absence of the complainants in both cases on at least 2 occasions.

The complainants, it said, only started appearing after the prosecution moved to dismiss the case and the accused did not object to the delay.

“[D]espite the lapse of time that prosecution failed to present its evidence, accused did not object to the several postponements of the hearings of this case which demeanor casts serious doubts on his desire for the speedy disposition of the case against him. It also shows that he is a willing participant in the undue delay of the proceedings of this case which resulted in the delay in of his deportation,” he observed.

“In this connection, this Court cannot simply disregard the allegation that the complaint which brought about the filing of the case against herein accused was merely fabricated,” he said.

The Pasay court found Watanabe's complainant failed to submit medical report proving the physical injuries she supposedly suffered.

In Saito's case, no medical certificate was also submitted and there was an inconsistency between the information, which alleged that Saito kicked and slapped his live-in partner and the complaint-affidavit which only mentioned kicking.

The court added that the VAWC cases against Watanabe and Saito did not allege the exact residences of the 2 complainants.

It reminded the prosecution to "scrutinize" complaints before filing them to avoid clogging trial court dockets.

Recognizing the importance of the relationship between the Philippines and the international community particularly when it comes to deportation commitments, it vowed the “Court will not be used as a hindrance to the said deportation."

The ruling, according to the justice department, clears the path to the deportation of the 2 remaining Japanese fugitives.

“There’s no more legal impediment to the deportation of the 2 Japanese fugitives and we expect them to be deported tomorrow morning,” Remulla said, although a subsequent announcement indicated the time is not yet certain.

“The court upheld the grounds that we have been speaking about these cases looking like fabricated cases, done as an afterthought or only as a means of frustrating the government to deport the fugitives. And today is a good day for us because the judge, the Honorable Christian Castañeda gave the order of dismissal. So tomorrow, Luffy will be home in Japan,” he told the media.

Remulla had repeatedly claimed that the cases could just be a ruse to prevent the Japanese fugitives from being deported, going as far as warning lawyers who allegedly use this tactic.

“We will send a report to the Supreme Court of the behavior of the lawyers who lawyered for the 4 Japanese fugitives,” he said.

He accused the lawyer of Watanabe and Saito of filing a motion for inhibition against the judge, which, he said, in effect, opposes the prosecution’s bid to have the cases dismissed.

“This is a ridiculous situation where a defense lawyer is opposing a favorable outcome for his client. Because the moment that of course the case is dismissed then they will be due for deportation. But it shows the great lengths they take to frustrate the justice system,” he said during the morning press conference at NAIA 1.

But lawyer Eljun Rico, who represents Watanabe and Saito, refuted Remulla’s claim.

“I was not the one who filed the Motion for Inhibition. It was the counsel for private complainant who did. Neither did I interpose any objection to the dismissal,” he said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.

The branch clerk of court, Atty. Maria Abigail Aguba-Dospueblos, clarified that the ruling was not yet final since the lawyer for the private complainants manifested in court that she would file a motion for reconsideration.

But Remulla brushed aside the possibility of a motion for reconsideration, explaining that any MR that would be filed had to be joined by the prosecutor or the Solicitor General.

“When you talk about acquittal it is immediately executory. It’s an acquittal. What happened here is that the person charged with violence against women has been cleared of the charge,” he explained.

MARCOS’ JAPAN VISIT

The deportation of 2 Japanese fugitives and the junking of the charges against 2 others came a day before Marcos is set to leave for Japan for a working visit.

Philippine Ambassador to Japan Mylene Garcia-Albano said in an interview with ANC that she did not expect the issue of the Japanese fugitives to be raised during the visit.

Remulla agreed. 

“I don’t think that it will be raised. I think the news today would be a good sign that things are happening and have happened and that we are turning over to them as soon as possible these persons,” he said.

“I think this is already an assurance to the Japanese government and the Japanese people that we will not allow our system to be frustrated by tactics of lawyers who file frivolous cases. It’s a signal that criminals can’t hide in the Philippines. We will deport them,” he added.

Asked about the Japanese Embassy’s reaction to the deportation and junking of charges, Remulla surmised, “I think they are satisfied that we have been able to act with this with dispatch.”

“It’s been almost 3 years, 4 years of waiting. It took the department this time 11 days to finish everything from the time we were asked to time we were able to deliver,” he added.

The DOJ previously said there were 17 Japanese nationals under its custody but only 4 were subjects of a deportation request from Tokyo. 

— With a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

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