The Philippines is willing to deport Yuki Watanabe, alias "Luffy," a suspected mastermind behind a string of robberies in Japan who is now in detention in the Southeast Asian country, once a local case against him is cleared, officials said.
A Philippine government source had earlier told Kyodo News that the local case against Watanabe complicated the possible handover. As Japan and the Philippines do not have an extradition treaty, that case must first be cleared before he can be deported.
Watanabe has been charged with violating a law on violence against women and children, according to a local court. An investigative source said that Watanabe maybe hopes the case will be a "way to avoid" being sent back to Japan. It was not clear when the case was filed against him.
A South Korean reporter who was once detained at the same immigration facility in Manila as Watanabe, meanwhile, told Kyodo News that foreign detainees who face cases in their home countries often ask Filipino residents to trump up charges against them to prolong their detention.
"That kind of arrangement can be easily made by paying 1 million won ($812)," Kim Yoon Young said, adding that trials in such cases can then be delayed using excuses such as ill health. One such person has been detained for nearly 10 years using such methods, he said.
Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that while a person with a pending court case cannot be deported, the government is investigating whether the charges against Watanabe were fabricated.
The South Korean reporter said that based on what he has heard from an acquaintance currently being held in the same immigration facility, Watanabe is living in a so-called "VIP room" where air-conditioning expenses are very costly, at 100,000 yen ($770) per month.
During his detention, Kim said he was able to use a mobile phone and even witnessed a Japanese group apparently involved in a fraud operation.
Japanese police requested the transfer of Watanabe and three other men to Japan from Manila after obtaining arrest warrants on suspicion of theft in connection with a scam targeting elderly people in Japan.
The four are also believed to be behind a spate of robberies starting last year, paying individuals to carry them out in a similar fashion to the way they had recruited people in the alleged scam operation.
Given that Watanabe faced a deportation order in May 2021, the investigative source said he was "surprised" that Watanabe has still not been sent to Japan.
According to Japan's National Police Agency, at least 20 cases of theft and robbery in 14 prefectures have occurred since last year, including the murder-robbery of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio at home in the city of Komae in western Tokyo on Jan. 19.
Over 30 suspects have been arrested in connection with the crimes.
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