MANILA (Kyodo) -- The Philippines deported on Tuesday two of four Japanese men suspected of planning and coordinating a string of robberies across Japan beginning last year, with Japanese police immediately arresting them when they boarded a flight to Japan.
The arrests of Kiyoto Imamura and Toshiya Fujita, both 38, 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. 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 and a Justice Department official.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla indicated the second pair may be deported as soon as Wednesday.
Manila believed criminal complaints that had been 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 by 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.
The four suspects likely include the person or persons thought to have used the pseudonyms "Luffy" and "Kim" during several of the robberies.
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.
He told a press conference that further coordination with Philippine authorities will enable the remaining suspects to be brought back to Japan.
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.
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 in stealing eight bank cards from a Tokyo woman by pretending to be a police officer, and withdrawing about 700,000 yen in cash in April 2019.
Fujita is alleged to have stolen two bank cards from a Tokyo man in a similar manner in November 2019.