Yakuza boss arrested after photo of tattoos go viral

A retired Japanese Yakuza boss has been arrested in Thailand ending more than 14 years on the run after photos of his gang-related tattoos went viral.

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

The fugitive Yakuza boss fled Japan in 2003 after allegedly killing his rival while part of the notorious criminal organization.

Shigeharu Shirai, 72, was arrested by a SWAT team on Wednesday after 14 years on the run when images of his tattoos went viral online and police spotted them

Shigeharu Shirai, 72, was arrested by a SWAT team on Wednesday after 14 years on the run when images of his tattoos went viral online and police spotted them

The fugitive Yakuza boss fled Japan in 2003 after allegedly killing his rival and being involved in several bloody battles within the notorious gangland

He remained under the radar until a Thai local posted some photos of the diminutive, frail-looking retiree playing a streetside checkers game with his intricate gang tattoos on full show and a missing little finger

The fugitive Yakuza boss fled Japan in 2003 after allegedly killing his rival and being involved in several bloody battles within the notorious gangland. He remained under the radar until a Thai local posted some photos of the diminutive, frail-looking retiree playing a streetside checkers game with his intricate gang tattoos on full show and a missing little finger

Shigeharu Shirai attends a news conference at a police station, after being detained by police in Lopburi province, Thailand, on Thursday

Shigeharu Shirai attends a news conference at a police station, after being detained by police in Lopburi province, Thailand, on Thursday

He had lived in hiding with his Thai wife - staying under the radar despite a joint investigation by the Thai Immigration Bureau and the Japanese Interpol in Tokyo.

That was until a Thai local posted some photos of the diminutive, frail-looking retiree 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 offense.

The pictures show Shigeharu in a baseball cap, check shirt and army pattern shorts relaxing with friends.

The poster wrote: 'Uncle, you're my idol. When I grow up, will I look like you?'

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. 

Shigeharu Shirai stands accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction for which seven other members of his gang were caught and imprisoned for between 12 and 17 years

Shigeharu Shirai stands accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction for which seven other members of his gang were caught and imprisoned for between 12 and 17 years

Shigeharu Shirai is also missing the pinky finger on his left had. Yakuza members often slice off the tip of a finger to atone for an offense

Shigeharu Shirai is also missing the pinky finger on his left had. Yakuza members often slice off the tip of a finger to atone for an offense

'The suspect admitted that 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, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

The yakuza emerged in the chaos of post-war Japan turning into multi-billion-dollar criminal organisations involved in everything from gambling, drugs and prostitution to loan sharking, protection rackets and white-collar crime.

They were long tolerated as a necessary evil to keep order on the streets and getting things done quickly - however dubious the means.

Unlike the Italian Mafia or Chinese triads, yakuza are not illegal and each group has its own headquarters in full view of police.

Shigeharu Shirai stands accused of shooting dead the boss of a rival faction for which seven other members of his gang were caught and imprisoned for between 12 and 17 years.

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

The mobster boss kept a 'low profile' during his stay in country, police said, receiving money two or three times each year from a visiting Japanese man

The mobster boss kept a 'low profile' during his stay in country, police said, receiving money two or three times each year from a visiting Japanese

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