Japanese crime boss held after yakuza tattoo photos go viral

Retired Japanese crime boss Shigeharu Shirai is accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction in Japan in 2003.
Retired Japanese crime boss Shigeharu Shirai is accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction in Japan in 2003.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • A retired Japanese crime boss has been arrested in Thailand, ending more than 14 years on the run after photos of his yakuza tattoos and a missing little finger went viral.

The fugitive, Shigeharu Shirai, 72, was arrested by a SWAT team on Wednesday in the sleepy central Thai market town of Lopburi.

Japanese authorities have called for his arrest over an alleged role in the shooting of a rival in Japan in 2003, after which he fled to Thailand, married a Thai and drifted into a seemingly peaceful retirement.

That was until a Thai local posted some photos of him playing a streetside checkers game with his intricate gang tattoos on full show and a missing little finger - yakuza members often slice off the tip of a finger to atone for an offence.

The photos were shared more than 10,000 times online and caught the attention of Japanese police, who asked the Thai authorities to move in. "The suspect admitted he was the leader of the Yakuza sub-gang Kodokai," Thai police spokesman General Wirachai Songmetta said, referring to an affiliate of Japan's largest yakuza gang.

Shirai stands accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction, for which seven other members of his gang were caught and imprisoned.

With no passport or visa, he was officially arrested for entering Thailand illegally and could be extradited to face prosecution in Japan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2018, with the headline 'Japanese crime boss held after yakuza tattoo photos go viral'. Print Edition | Subscribe