Japan Police Focus on Finding ‘Luffy’ Crime Masterminds

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Police officers examine the vicinity of a house where a robbery and homicide took place in Komae, Tokyo, on Jan. 19.

Recent arrests will likely help the Metropolitan Police Department gain insight into a string of robberies nationwide, but it will seemingly take a long time for the investigation to be concluded.

Four men were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in a Jan. 19 robbery and homicide in Komae, Tokyo.

“We will use the arrests as a breakthrough to unravel the full extent of the crime,” Tsuyoshi Koda, the 58-year-old chief of the MPD’s First Investigation Division, said at a press conference after the arrests.

The heinous manner and careful planning of the robbery-homicide has left society at large feeling uneasy.

The 90-year-old victim, Kinuyo Oshio, was attacked shortly after she returned home from shopping on her own. Her wrists were bound with cable ties, and her ribs and left arm were broken in several places after being beaten all over her body.

A smartphone seized from a rental car used in the crime contained messages such as “There’s cash in the basement” and “Do you have any problems beating up old people?” The messages were sent by a person who uses the alias “Kim.”

A robbery ring is suspected of having carefully planned the break-in, knowing in advance where money and goods were located, and who lived in the residence.

The four arrested included a man who had already been arrested on suspicion of another robbery as well as a 19-year-old male college student. The MPD is also investigating the four men’s connections.

Perpetrators as pawns

According to the National Police Agency, more than 50 cases in 14 prefectures since the summer of 2021 are suspected to be related. In each case, similar methods are used, such as multiple persons braking into residences and shops.

In many cases the suspects were instructed by someone who uses the alias “Luffy” or “Kim.” Perpetrators were recruited through “dark” part-time jobs on social media. Those recruited were believed to have been given instructions via a communication app and repeatedly committed robberies in various locations across Japan.

The police have so far arrested more than 60 suspects but have been unable to identify any mastermind.

“The perpetrators are nothing more than pawns, easily sacrificed,” a senior NPA official said. “The problem will not be solved unless we expose the masterminds.”

Since late January, there have been robberies of homes and stores in various places, but their methods are different from that of those tied to the “Luffy” group. The police believe that perhaps “Luffy” or other possible masterminds are not currently involved in these recent incidents.

Smartphones reset

The investigation continues to focus on four men who were extradited from the Philippines earlier this month.

Analysis of the smartphones seized has revealed that “Luffy” and others were giving instructions from the Philippines. The MPD is investigating the connection to these four extradited men, including 38-year-old Yuki Watanabe.

The MPD received from Philippine authorities approximately 15 devices including iPhone that are believed to have been used by the four extradited men. After unlocking and examining some of the devices, the MPD found that very little data remained, indicating that the devices may have been reset.

The police plan to investigate by using digital forensics and other methods to recover and analyze data that has been erased from the devices, but this might take some time.

“To clarify the chain of command, objective evidence as well as the statements of the suspects is indispensable,” said Shinichiro Kuwahara, 60, who served as a chief of the NPA’s First Investigation Division. “Even if it is difficult to analyze the smartphone of the masterminds, a number of perpetrators and others have been arrested this time, and the analysis of the seized smartphones may lead to a fuller picture.”