MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The alleged ringleader of a string of robberies across Japan, known to have gone by the name of "Luffy," is believed to have remotely given instructions to those carrying out the break-ins via an encrypted messaging app from an immigration facility in Manila, where he is being held.
Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told Kyodo News on Thursday evening that the man was arrested in the Philippines in 2021 and is being held at the immigration facility, along with another Japanese national suspected of being part of the robbery group.
Remulla said the second man will be deported to Japan as soon as the necessary paperwork is completed, but Luffy is facing other, unrelated criminal charges in the Philippines with the case pending in a Manila court, preventing his immediate deportation to Japan.
The two are believed to be among four men detained in Manila who Japanese police have requested be transferred to Japan, investigative sources said Friday.
All four men, who are members of a communications fraud group based in the Philippines, have arrest warrants for various crimes, including theft, according to the sources.
According to the minister, Luffy was arrested by Philippine authorities in May 2021. He faced deportation the same month as a fugitive of justice and was allegedly using counterfeit documents.
He is now facing separate charges in the Philippines and will be deported if the case is dismissed or once he has served time if he is found guilty of the alleged crimes.
The other Japanese male has been detained at the immigration facility since 2019. After being apprehended by Philippine immigration at Manila's international airport in 2019, he faced a deportation order the following year for being a fugitive in Japan for theft.
He also faced separate criminal charges in the Philippines, but immigration authorities said he can now be deported because the criminal case against him was dropped at a local court on Wednesday.
The robberies began last year and appeared to have been carried out by people who ringleaders instructed through the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
According to Japan's National Police Agency, there have been at least 20 robberies in 14 prefectures since last year, with over 30 suspects arrested in some cases.
Among the cases is the murder-robbery of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio in her home in the city of Komae in Tokyo on Jan. 19. The incident struck a nerve in Japan, a country known for low crime rates and safety relative to other countries.
Analysis of phones belonging to some of those arrested in connection with the robberies shows they received instructions from three names -- Luffy, Kim and Mitsuhashi. The telephone number linked to Luffy suggested the person was in the Philippines, according to Japanese police.
According to Remulla, the warden of the Manila immigration facility has been instructed to confiscate all communication devices at the facility and ensure that access to them is strictly monitored.