Sunday 15 December 2019

Tattoos betray yakuza boss after 15 years on the run

Japanese gang member Shigeharu Shirai displays his tattoos to police. Photo: AP
Japanese gang member Shigeharu Shirai displays his tattoos to police. Photo: AP

Nicola Smith

THAI police 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 police 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.

The fugitive was arrested during a shopping trip in the central market town of Lopburi, 160km north of Bangkok.

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

The mafia-like yakuza gangs first operated in the 17th century, stemming from street merchants and gamblers. The crime syndicates are believed to have 60,000 members across 21 different factions. The gangs are not illegal and even have dedicated offices and business cards.

However, much of their earnings come from illicit activities including gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, protection rackets, drug trafficking, cyber hacking and white-collar crime.

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. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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