Japanese Robbery Ring Suspects Held in ‘VIP Rooms’ at Philippine Detention Center

Courtesy of Kim Yoon-young
Detainees are seen at the Philippine immigration bureau’s Bicutan detention center near Manila in 2019.

Four Japanese suspects linked to robberies in Japan who are currently being held at an immigrant detention center near Manila have had access to smartphones among other luxury items at the facility, according to a former detainee.

“You can do anything as long as you have money,” said a Japanese man in his 60s who until recently had been detained at the Philippine immigration bureau’s Bicutan detention center, where foreigners set to be deported are detained.

The man spoke to The Yomiuri Shimbun about the situation at the detention center where Yuki Watanabe and three other men suspected of overseeing a string of robberies in Japan are being held.

According to the man, who spent a few years at the facility, detainees include Japanese, South Koreans and Chinese, among other nationals. About 300 detainees are being held at the center, far exceeding the maximum capacity of about 140.

According to the man, bunk beds line corridors and common areas in the facility, which suffers from poor sanitation and is infested with rats and insects.

The man said bribery is rampant, with detainees able to obtain smartphones, computers, alcohol and even illegal drugs. Bribes are paid to wardens in cash delivered by visitors or electronic currency using smartphones. Some detainees act as “bankers,” charging commission fees to move funds.

Among the four suspects, Watanabe and Kiyoto Imamura were moved to a “VIP room” with a shower and a toilet at some point during their detention. They had access to items such as air conditioners, fans and smartphones, according to the man.

He said the pair were often ordering deliveries of pizza and other fast food because they disliked the simple meals provided at the facility. The man had even seen them eating wagyu beef and a whole tuna with their friends. “I wondered how they were getting the money,” he said.

According to the man, one of the four suspects was always carrying multiple smartphones and SIM cards and a list with names and contact information of Japanese people.

“It was obvious he was up to no good, but none of the wardens questioned him,” the man said.

One of the suspects had apparently spoken about the possibility of avoiding deportation by getting a lawyer to fabricate a legal complaint, which would lead to an investigation by authorities in the Philippines.

“It’s common practice among detainees who want to avoid deportation. One detainee stayed for 15 years,” the man said.