Clarify Picture of Robbery-for-Hire Operation by Analyzing Smartphone Data

Four men deported from the Philippines are believed to have played leading roles in orchestrating a string of robberies across Japan, issuing instructions to the direct perpetrators. The full picture of the incidents must be clarified, including whether a larger crime organization existed behind the scenes.

Four Japanese men, who are suspected of involvement in a series of robberies in various parts of Japan, have been deported from an immigration facility in the Philippines.

The four suspects are believed to have been leading members of a special fraud group based in the Philippines. The Metropolitan Police Department had obtained arrest warrants for them on those grounds in 2019 to 2021. However, the Philippine side had refused to extradite them because they were suspects in other cases in the country.

Their deportations were realized suddenly because suspicion emerged that they had used their smartphones while in the immigration facility to issue instructions to hirelings — recruited via social media for “dark” part-time jobs — to commit the robberies.

The Philippine side, in addition to taking the incidents seriously, apparently judged it necessary to consider diplomatic factors due to a planned visit to Japan by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The MPD has arrested the four men on suspicion of theft in connection with special fraud cases.

While investigating the fraud cases, the police also need to clarify the four men’s connection with the robbery cases. Who among the four suspects used such pseudonyms as “Luffy” and “Kim” and gave directions to the robberies’ perpetrators? Where did the stolen money go? There are many points that need to be clarified.

The key to getting to the bottom of the incidents may lie in the suspects’ smartphones and tablet computers, seized by the Philippine authorities at the immigration facility.

Instructions were reportedly given to the perpetrators through Telegram, a communications app with a function to automatically erase messages. It is hoped that the police will continue to recover and analyze the data left on the smartphones and other devices to demystify the flow of money and the chains of instructions and orders.

At the Philippine immigration facility where the suspects were held, detainees reportedly were able to obtain whatever they wanted by bribing officials, and they were able to use their smartphones. In response to this issue, the Philippine authorities have removed the immigration facility staff and others involved.

It is an extremely serious situation if the four suspects gave instructions to the perpetrators and others at the corruption-infested facility to cause a string of robberies in Japan.

Those robberies include a case in which a victim was murdered. If the suspects had been deported to Japan and arrested at an earlier stage when they were found to have been linked to the special fraud cases, this horrible outcome could have been prevented.

Japan and the Philippines have yet to conclude a criminal extradition treaty. The Philippines has no wish to become a hiding place for criminals, as Manila would thereby risk losing its international credibility. The two countries need to establish a system for cooperation in investigations and extradition of criminals.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 10, 2023)