OSAKA — The president of a private university in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, was robbed of some 700,000 yen early Tuesday by three knife-wielding intruders, and police suspect the same non-Japanese Asians linked to 17 other break-ins in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures since March 1998 perpetrated the crime.

The three robbers broke into the residence of Yoshiyasu Shirai, 52, president of Osaka Gakuin University, at around 3 a.m. and threatened Shirai at knifepoint, police said.

Shirai told police the three spoke in a strange accent as they repeatedly said the words “kane” (money) and “kinko” (safe).

They tied Shirai up with a rope and fled after taking about 700,000 yen in cash, police said, noting Shirai was not injured and the other members of his family were sleeping in other rooms at the time.

Police said the 700,000 yen brings the total amount of cash taken in the string of house robberies in the two prefectures to about 47 million yen.

They suspect the same group of Asians is behind the robberies based on their similarities — the words spoken in broken Japanese and the manner in which the crimes were carried out.

In most of the cases, several robbers broke into homes early in the morning, threatened and tied up the victims at knifepoint and demanded money in broken Japanese, police said. Investigators also found similar footprints at the scenes.

Authorities said it was highly likely members of the gang carried out their crimes on a rotational basis, never the same perpetrators together in each incident.

Osaka and Hyogo Prefectural Police have set up a special investigative task force to probe the crimes.

According to police, the first break-in occurred early in the morning of March 30, 1998, when two men with knives broke into the home of a 66-year-old doctor in Osaka’s Nishinari Ward, tied up the victims and fled with about 2.5 million yen in cash and jewelry.

Similar robberies followed in other parts of Osaka Prefecture, Kobe and Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, mainly targeting the homes of money lenders and real estate agents.

Kabuki actor Hidetaro Kataoka, 57, was burglarized as he was sleeping at his residence in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, in March. He was robbed of 300,000 yen in cash and a wristwatch.

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