Yakuza boss arrested in Thailand after tattoos go viral

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Thai police said they have arrested a 74-year-old fugitive Japanese gang member who was recognized when photos of his full-body tattoos were circulated online.

Shirai was arrested during a shopping trip on Wednesday, in the central market town of Lopburi, 160 kilometres north of Bangkok.

Japanese gang member Shigeharu Shirai displays his tattoos at a police station during a press conference in Lopburi, central Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018.

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.

Police said the attention of Japanese authorities was drawn after pictures of Yakuza tattoos covering Shirai's back went viral on social media.According to the Nation, a Facebook user who himself has colourful tattoos all over his body, posted photos of the Japenese man in August a year ago. "When I grow up, will I look like you?"

The post was shared more than 10,000 times, with some users identifying the former gang member.

"The suspect admitted he was the leader of the yakuza sub-gang Kodokai", said Thai Police General Wirachai Songmetta, referring to Yamaguchi-gumi, an affiliate of Japan's largest yakuza gang.

Thai police escorting Shirai
Thai police escorting Shirai

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.

In a video provided by Thai police, Shirai is shown wearing a baseball cap and a short-sleeve shirt that he pulled down to reveal colorful irezumi tattoos, which are often associated with underworld figures, on his arms and torso.

While the gangs themselves are not illegal, much of their earnings are gained illicitly through gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking and cyber-hacking.

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

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

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

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

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