Yakuza boss arrested in Thailand after tattoos go viral

Senior police examine tattoos covering the suspect's torso

Senior police examine tattoos covering the suspect's torso

Thai police have arrested a 72-year-old Japanese fugitive who was recognized when his full-body tattoos were circulated online.

However, while Shirai confessed to being a gang-leader, he did not admit murdering his rival.

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.

Shigeharu Shirai was arrested on Wednesday evening in Lopburi province, 150 km (95 miles) north of the capital, 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.

Investigators said Mr Shirai was a member of the Yamaguchi-gumi gang, a faction within Japan's yakuza.

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

When the pictures of Mr Shirai went viral they caught the attention of Japanese police who requested his arrest.

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Despite their notorious reputation the Yakuza are not illegal like the Italian Mafia or Chinese triads, and each group has its own headquarters in full view of police.

"The suspect has not confessed to murder but has admitted that the victim used to bully him", the Thai police spokesman added.

The mafia-like yakuza gangs first operated in the 17th century, stemming from street merchants and gamblers.

Police say that Japanese associates paid visits to Shirai two to three times a year, each time bearing cash gifts at around 10,000 baht (£232).

Japanese police took notice of the images and asked their Thai counterparts to apprehend Shirai, which they did Wednesday in the town of Lopburi on the grounds of visa violations.

According to Thai officials, Shirai is expected to be extradited to Japan.

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.

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