Two of the four suspects believed to be behind a spate of robberies and telephone fraud cases across Japan were deported from the Philippines on Tuesday.
Japanese news outlets and social media have been captivated by the crimes that allegedly involved ringleaders based in the Southeast Asian country.
Low-level criminals arrested in Japan told police they received instructions from a person or several people who used the name “Luffy” via the Telegram messenger app.
Monkey D. Luffy is the lead character of the hugely popular “One Piece” manga, a straw hat-wearing pirate hunting for a coveted treasure.
Officials escorted Kiyoto Imamura and Toshiya Fujita, who were both handcuffed, into a Japan Airlines jet at Manila airport, and the pair arrived at Narita airport outside Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon, TV footage showed.
Japan’s justice ministry and Tokyo police declined to comment on the case, but local media said the two men were formally arrested after the plane left Philippine airspace.
“Green curtains were pulled around the suspects, except for during take-off and landing,” reported a journalist for Japan’s public broadcaster NHK who travelled on the plane.
After the arrest took place behind the curtains, the suspects were served meals, the journalist said.
But he added: “Due to safety concerns, items such as hot soup or toothpicks had been removed. Plastic spoons and forks were used, rather than the usual metal ones.”
All four suspects were held at an immigration detention facility in Manila.
They were caught with cell phones inside that facility that may have been used to run “criminal enterprises,” Philippines Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla told reporters last week.
Criminals were reportedly given orders to carry out break-ins or fraud. NHK said more than 70 people have been apprehended.
The group was thought to be behind 2,300 cases of fraud worth 3.5 billion yen (US$26.4 million), NHK said.
It has also been connected to a series of break-ins in Tokyo, including one that ended with the murder of 90-year-old Kinuyo Oshio, who was found dead at her home on January 19.
As Japan and the Philippines do not have an extradition treaty, local cases already filed against the suspects had to be cleared before they could leave.
The other two suspects could be deported as early as Wednesday, the same day Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos is due to depart on a state visit to Tokyo.
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