Fugitive Japanese mafia boss arrested after tattoos go viral on Facebook
Thai police have arrested a Japanese crime boss who had been on the run for 15 years after his elaborate tattoos went viral on Facebook.
Shigeharu Shirai, 72, a leading figure in one of Japan’s notorious “yakuza” mafia gangs, was wanted by the Japanese authorities for his alleged role in a gangland murder in 2003.
He is accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction, which resulted in the imprisonment of seven members of his gang for between 12 and 17 years.
He had fled to Thailand, married a local woman and melted into a seemingly obscure retirement before someone unwittingly posted photographs of him playing a streetside checkers game with his distinctive gangland tattoos on display.
A missing little finger, which reflected a tradition by yakuza members of slicing off a fingertip in atonement for an offence, also provided a clue to his true identity.
The seemingly innocent images were shared more than 10,000 times and were spotted by police in Japan, who alerted their Thai counterparts.
Shirai was arrested during a shopping trip on Wednesday, in the central market town of Lopburi, 160 kilometres north of Bangkok.
“The suspect admitted he was the leader of the yakuza sub-gang Kodokai,” said Thai Police General Wirachai Songmetta, referring to Yamaguchi-gumi, an affiliate of Japan’s largest yakuza gang.
“The suspect has not confessed to murder but has admitted that the victim used to bully him,” he added.
The mafia-like yakuza gangs first operated in the 17th century, stemming from street merchants and gamblers. They are a transnational group of crime syndicates believed to have 60,000 members across 21 different factions.
During the chaos of post-war Japan, their underworld empire grew to become worth billions of dollars.
The gangs themselves are not illegal and even have dedicated offices and business cards.
However, much of the yakuza’s earnings come from illicit activities including gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, protection rackets, drug trafficking, cyber hacking and white-collar crime. Each group has its own headquarters, sometimes in full view of the police, who refer to them as b?ryokudan [violent groups]. The gangs calls themselves ninky? dantai [chivalrous organisations].
Traditionally they have been tolerated as a necessary evil to keep order on the streets, although the authorities are now trying to reign in their criminal behaviour, banning banks from allowing gangsters to set up accounts.
Members of the gangs traditionally distinguish themselves with intricate tattoos, which come to symbolise a person’s toughness and acceptance of being an outcast from society. Shirai had tried to keep a low profile during his stay in Thailand, the police said. He had received money to live on from a Japanese man who visited him two or three times a year.
He was arrested for entering Thailand illegally without a passport or visa and will now be re-arrested and face prosecution in his homeland.
– The Telegraph