FUKUOKA – Operators of the now-closed pirate site Manga-Mura, formerly one of the largest illegal Japanese comics-viewing websites and host of popular manga such as “One Piece,” used multiple bank accounts overseas to conceal the flow of money, investigative sources said Wednesday.
Police believe 27-year-old Romi Hoshino, who was arrested Tuesday after having been listed on an international wanted list on suspicion of copyright infringement, earned huge advertising revenues by running the site and used the accounts to pay rewards to other operators, they said.
Three other people have been indicted over the operation of Manga-Mura, which is believed to have cost the manga industry over ¥300 billion ($2.8 billion) in losses before its closure in April last year.
Hoshino, believed to have headed Manga-Mura’s operation, is suspected of conspiring with others regarding which manga titles should be on the website, according to sources.
The police sent Hoshino to prosecutors on Wednesday, a day after he was arrested aboard a plane while he was being deported from the Philippines.
Investigators have found transactions involving hundreds of millions of yen in total between the group’s bank accounts, including those abroad.
The police suspect most of the money was earnings from operation of the website and that Hoshino and his accomplices used overseas accounts to conceal the flow of funds.
Investigators also found that the pirated site carried image files illegally downloaded via multiple servers overseas.
The three other suspected operators are 38-year-old Wataru Adachi, who is considered to have been deputy head of the operation, as well as a man and a woman in their 20s in Tokyo who are believed to have downloaded and released the comics.
Initially, Adachi was responsible for deciding which titles should appear on the website but Hoshino joined him later in the process, demanding the accomplices make the latest episodes available on the same dates as the comic magazines carrying them hit store shelves, according to the sources.
The police have confiscated a total of 360 items, including computers and a communications device to hide internet protocol addresses, from locations linked to the four alleged operators.