Tattoos betray fugitive yakuza boss

Taipei: Thai  police have detained a Japanese crime leader who’d been on the run for 15 years after his elaborate tattoos moved viral Facebook.

Shigeharu Shirai, 72, a major figure in one of Japan’s infamous “yakuza” mafia gangs, was wanted by the Japanese government for his alleged part in a gangland murder in 2003.

Japanese gang member Shigeharu Shirai displays his tattoos at a police station in Thailand.
Japanese gang celebrity Shigeharu Shirai shows his tattoos at a police station in Thailand.   Photo: AP

He’s accused of shooting dead the manager of a rival faction, which led to the imprisonment of seven members of the group for between 12 and 17 decades.

He’d fled into Thailand, married a local girl and pitched into a seemingly obscure retirement before someone unwittingly posted photographs of him playing a streetside checkers game with his identifying gangland tattoos on display.

The 72-year-old fugitive who was recognized when images of his full-body tattoos were circulated online.
The 72-year-old Mothers who had been recognized when images of the full-body tattoos had been circulated online.     Photo: AP

A lost little finger, that reflected a tradition by yakuza members of cutting a fingertip at atonement for an offence, also given a clue to his identity.

The apparently innocent images were shared more than 10,000 days and were seen by police in Japan, who alerted their Thai counterparts.

Shirai was detained during a shopping trip on Wednesday, at the middle market city of Lopburi, 160 kilometres north of Bangkok.

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“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 biggest yakuza gang.

“The suspect has not confessed to murder but has admitted that the victim used to bully him,” he added.

Even the mafia-like yakuza gangs first operated from the 17th century, also stemming from street merchants and gamblers. They are a multinational group of crime syndicates considered to have 60,000 members across 21 unique factions.

Throughout the turmoil of post-war Japan, their underworld empire grew to become worth billions of dollars.

The gangs themselves are not illegal and even have committed offices and business cards.

But a lot of the yakuza’s earnings come from illegal activities including gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, protection rackets, drug trafficking, cyber hacking along with white-collar crime. Every class has its headquarters, sometimes in full view of the police, that refer to them as b?ryokudan [violent groups]. The gangs calls themselves ninky? dantai [chivalrous organisations].

Traditionally they have been tolerated as a essential evil to maintain order on the roads, although the government are now attempting to reign in their criminal behaviour, banning banks from enabling gangsters to prepare accounts.

Members of these gangs traditionally distinguish themselves with elaborate tattoos, and this come to symbolise a person’s toughness and approval of being the outcast from society. Shirai had attempted to maintain a low profile throughout his stay in Thailand, the police said. He had obtained money to live on from a Japanese man who seen him three times annually.

He had been detained for entering Thailand illegally without a passport or visa and will now be re-arrested and face prosecution in his homeland.

Telegraph, London