Robbery Suspects May be Extradited to Japan as Early as Tuesday

Courtesy of Philippine authorities
Right: Yuki Watanabe
Left: Toshiya Fujita

Four Japanese men suspected of involvement in a recent string of robberies may be handed over to Japanese authorities as early as Tuesday, according to investigative sources.

The men are currently being held in a detention center near Manila, and the Philippine government announced Wednesday its intention to deport all of them to Japan at the same time.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is scheduled to visit Japan on Feb. 8-12 to meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other officials. Both countries agree that the four suspects should be extradited before Marcos’s visit to Japan, so the matter does not become a diplomatic issue.

Both sides are making arrangements to fly the men to Japan on Tuesday.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the suspects are Yuki Watanabe, 38; Kiyoto Imamura, 38; Toshiya Fujita, 38, and Tomonobu Kojima, 45. All of them are believed to have played a leading role in a fraud group that Philippine police cracked down on in 2019, and Tokyo police have obtained arrest warrants for them on theft charges from 2019 to 2021.

The Philippine side had previously refused to extradite the four, saying they were involved in other trials in the Philippines. But this year, suspicions emerged that they were connected to robberies in Japan, and the Japan side renewed its request for extradition.

A spokesperson of the Philippine Justice Department told reporters Wednesday that the Philippines will extradite the four simultaneously. Three of the men, excluding Imamura, are currently on trial in the Philippines, but if it is determined that the charges were fabricated to evade extradition, the charges will be dismissed.

A figure or figures calling themselves “Luffy” or “Kim” are suspected of issuing instructions from the Philippines to the perpetrators in a series of robberies in Japan, who were recruited via posts for “dark” part-time jobs on social media. After the four return to Japan, the MPD plans to first execute the arrest warrants on the theft charges from 2019 to 2021, and then investigate their involvement in the recent string of robberies.