The case of four Marines accused of gang-raping a Japanese woman was handed over to prosecutors Tuesday, Hiroshima Prefecture police announced.

The police recommended the four servicemembers from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni be charged with abduction for the purpose of sexual assault, gang-rape and robbery, according to a police press statement.

Japanese prosecutors must now decide whether to indict the Marines on those charges.

The four unidentified Marines, ages 19, 24, 34 and 38, allegedly forced the woman into a vehicle, raped her and stole her money in a Hiroshima neighborhood early on the morning of Oct. 14, police said.

No arrest warrants have been issued, and the men remain confined by the U.S. military in cells at the air station.

“The action today is another step in an ongoing process during which we will continue to fully cooperate with Japanese authorities,” said Iwakuni spokesman Master Sgt. John Cordero.

Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, servicemembers charged with Japanese crimes remain in U.S. military custody until indicted if they are being detained on military property.

However, a “gentlemen’s agreement” was reached to hand over suspects accused of violent crimes after the public outcry caused by the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two Marines and a Navy corpsman in 1995.

Police refused Tuesday to explain why Japanese authorities have not attempted to gain custody of the Marines.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Tuesday that authorities chose not to seek arrest warrants but continued on with the investigation because the alleged victim’s memories were vague and the Marines denied committing any crime, saying it was consensual.

Once a suspect is taken into custody, police and prosecutors have 23 days to indict, according to Japanese law.

Police and prosecutors work in tandem in the Japanese legal system, and as cases progress, prosecutors typically take over the lead.

The case was transferred to the prosecutor’s office after Japanese authorities questioned the Marines for several days earlier this month.

A command representative and military police were present during the Japanese questioning on Nov. 2, 5 and 6, the air station public affairs office said.

If indicted for the alleged crimes, the Marines face a legal system that is tough for defendants — more than 99 percent of those charged in Japanese courts are convicted, according to the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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