​Fugitive Yakuza Boss Arrested In Thailand After Full Body Tattoos Go Viral

Retired Japanese crime boss Shigeharu Shirai has been arrested in Thailand following 14 years on the run, after photos of his Yakuza tattoos went viral.

The 74-year-old fugitive was apprehended while shopping in Thailand's central market town of Lopburi on Wednesday.

He had been lying low in Thailand, where he fled when Japanese authorities sought his arrest over his alleged involvement in shooting a gang rival in 2003. When he got to Thailand - reportedly in 2005 - he married a local woman and seemed to settle down for retirement as a runaway, receiving money two or three times a year from visiting Japanese men.

Credit: Viral Press
Credit: Viral Press

But the peaceful south-east Asian bliss was cut short on Wednesday when authorities finally managed to track him down. And the reason why simply proves the sheer power of the Internet.

The crime boss' elaborate Yakuza tattoos were spotted by a local Thai person, who was unaware of his identity. The person then shared photographs of Shirai playing a streetside checkers game, complete with the distinctive inked artwork, online, which soon went viral - being shared over 10,000 times.

Credit: Viral Press
Credit: Viral Press

The photos also showed his missing little finger - something that was particularly interesting as Yakuza members sometimes slice off a fingertip to atone for an offence, mistake or breaching gangland code. The ritual is known as 'yubisume'.

It was then that Japanese police made the link, and requested his arrest.

He was detained in Lopburi (which is north of Bangkok) for entering Thailand illegally, as he had no passport or visa. To face the murder charges, he will be extradited to Japan.

Credit: Viral Press
Credit: Viral Press

Thai police say he admitted to being a member of a Yakuza gang, but he did not confess to the 2003 murder that he was wanted for.

"The suspect admitted he was the leader of the Yakuza sub-gang Kodokai," said a Thai police spokesman, Gen WirachaiSongmetta.

Yamaguchi-gumi is an affiliate of Japan's largest yakuza gang. Unlike the Italian mafia or Chinese triads, Yakuza gangs aren't actually illegal, and sometimes the headquarters of each group is in full view of police.

However, Yakuza are known for making much of their earnings illicitly through the likes of gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking and cyber-hacking.

The gangs have been part of Japanese society for centuries now, and have an estimated 60,000 members.

Featured Image Credit: Viral Press

Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman is a journalist who graduated from Manchester University with a BA in Film Studies, English Language and Literature, and has previously worked for Time Out and The Skinny among others.

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