Two of four Japanese men suspected of planning and coordinating a string of robberies across Japan were deported from the Philippines and arrested by Japanese police while aboard a flight to Narita on Tuesday.
The police have transported Kiyoto Imamura, and Toshiya Fujita, both 38, to a Tokyo police station, with the two remaining suspects held in Manila expected to be deported late Wednesday local time.
The arrests of Imamura and Fujita came after days of developments around an immigration detention facility in Manila where the four men have been held, with their repatriation hinging on courts dismissing local criminal cases against them.
The police have for some time sought for the four men to be turned over on arrest warrants issued on suspicion of theft in connection with a scam targeting elderly people in Japan since last year. Imamura and Fujita were cleared of charges in the Philippines before their deportation.
"They are being deported because they have been tagged by their government as fugitives from justice. Therefore they are considered undesirable aliens in this country," Philippines' Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval told reporters Tuesday.
The remaining two suspects, Yuki Watanabe, 38, and Tomonobu Kojima, 45, have been cleared for deportation following a local court on Tuesday dismissing their cases, according to their lawyer.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told the day's news conference that with "no more legal impediment" to their deportation, they are expected to be deported on Wednesday.
Manila believed criminal complaints lodged against the men were likely fabricated to allow them to avoid deportation.
The deportation comes just a day before Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to begin a five-day visit to Japan for talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The Philippine government has been working to expedite the suspects' deportation to avoid the issue being a distraction during the president's visit, which officials on both sides hope will focus on deepening economic cooperation.
Besides the theft cases for which their arrest warrants have been issued, the four men are suspected of coordinating robberies using an encrypted messaging app while being held at the immigration facility.
They are believed to be linked to at least 20 robberies across 14 of Japan's 47 prefectures. A murder-robbery of a 90-year-old woman in the city of Komae in Tokyo on Jan. 19, in particular, drew a strong response from the Japanese public.
Perpetrators of the actual robberies are believed to have been enticed on social media by well-paying "part-time jobs" and received instructions via the Telegram messaging app when committing the acts.
The four suspects likely include the person, or persons thought to have used the pseudonyms "Luffy" and "Kim" when the crimes were allegedly committed.
In Tokyo, Koichi Tani, the head of the National Public Safety Commission, which supervises the nation's police, thanked Philippine authorities for their cooperation in deporting the suspects.
Noting that Japanese police had been calling for the suspects' deportation since November 2019, Tani said he is determined to have the police thoroughly investigate and resolve the cases.
Philippine authorities handed over 24 items confiscated from the four men, such as smartphones and computer tablets, to Japanese police, according to Justice Department spokesman Mico Clavano.
The police believe Watanabe is the leader of the scam ring that the National Police Agency alleges stole more than 6 billion yen ($45.3 million) in crimes targeting elderly people.
But the group is believed to have turned to robberies after police cracked down on their methods.
An outstanding arrest warrant against Imamura alleges he conspired with an unknown individual to steal eight bank cards from a Tokyo woman by pretending to be a police officer, withdrawing about 700,000 yen in cash in April 2019.
Fujita is alleged to have stolen two bank cards from a Tokyo man similarly in November 2019.