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Japan asks Philippines to deport four amid ‘Luffy’ controversy

Japan has formally asked the Philippine government to deport four of its citizens suspected of directing a series of robberies there while detained in the Philippines.

Japanese embassy media relations officer Akihiko Hitomi said the post sent the request to the Department of Justice on Monday.

Hitomi said the embassy could not provide further details nor the names of the suspects, but that the deportation request was for "four people."

Japanese media have reported that four Japanese individuals allegedly orchestrated at least 14 robberies in several prefectures in Japan from a detention facility in the Philippines.

According to a 24 Oras report, the suspects would instruct their co-conspirators in Japan via an encrypted messaging app.

The crimes being investigated also includes the murder of a 90-year-old woman in a Tokyo suburb on January 19. According to a Reuters report, more than 30 suspects have already been arrested in Japan.

At a press briefing Monday, Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla told local and Japanese journalists that he would meet with Japanese embassy officials to discuss the issue.

"The requests came way back in 2019. We just took over to expedite," DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said.

Remulla said some mobile devices had been confiscated and were now in the possession of Philippine authorities.

The alleged masterminds, identified in Japanese media as Imamura Kiyoto and Yuki Watanabe, were arrested respectively in 2019 and 2021. Japanese police said the two could be sharing the alias "Luffy," after a character in the Japanese manga "One Piece."

The 24 Oras report said the suspect arrested in 2021 was nabbed for allegedly violating the Violence Against Women and Children Act. Of the four suspects, only Watanabe has a pending local case. Remulla said Philippine prosecutors could dismiss the case if it's found to have no merit so that Watanabe could be deported to Japan.

Once all legal processes are completed, Remulla said, all four can be deported in "10 to 12 days or earlier."

Authorities will also look into whether someone in the detention facility is colluding with the suspects to enable them to use smartphones while locked up.

The Philippines and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, but suspects could be turned over once legal procedures are completed. 

According to Kyodo News, Japanese police have obtained warrants of arrest for the four individuals for fraud. — with reports from Reuters/NB/BM, GMA Integrated News