‘Luffy’ Group Suspected of Having Scammed Victims Out of ¥3.5 Billion

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A group led by four Japanese men currently being held at a Philippine immigration detention center allegedly swindled victims out of some ¥3.5 billion, according to an investigative source. The special fraud cases occurred between 2017 and 2019 and had scammers impersonating police officers and others.

The four suspected leaders include Kiyoto Imamura and Yuki Watanabe, who has gone by the name Luffy in the past, the source said. Watanabe is believed to have directed the fraud operations.

The group is also suspected of having coordinated a series of robberies across Japan.

In connection with the fraud cases, the Metropolitan Police Department and 18 other prefectural police forces have arrested about 70 people. The criminal group recruited members for the fraud via a social networking site, as they did with the robbery ring, police said.

Police are investigating the connection between the four men and the robbery spree.

The group is believed to have been based in the Philippines since at least 2017 and instructed Japanese nationals, whom they recruited to be “callers” and had come to the Philippines, to make scam calls to elderly people in Japan. Claiming to be police officers, finance bureau officials and others, the callers would tell elderly victims that fraud had been detected on their bank accounts.

Then the “receivers” in Japan visited the victims’ homes, had them place their cash cards in an envelope, swapped out the envelope, and withdrew cash from ATMs with the stolen cards.

In November 2019, the Philippine authorities cracked down on the group, which was based in an abandoned hotel near Manila, and arrested 36 callers. Watanabe and the three others were not among those arrested.

The MPD and the prefectural police forces investigated the receivers and others linked to the cases in Japan, leading to a total of some 70 arrests by June last year, including the 36 callers. About 2,300 people throughout Japan were victims of the fraud, with total damage amounting to about ¥3.5 billion.

Having determined Watanabe and the three others masterminded the scams, the MPD obtained arrest warrants for theft and other charges. The MPD sought the extradition of the four men, but the Philippines did not comply with the request since the men may have been involved in other cases in the Philippines.