Tattoos lead Thai police to arrest Japanese gang member


THAI police on Thursday said a 74-year-old Japanese man accused of a gang murder in Japan 15 years ago has been arrested in Thailand after pictures of his tattoos went viral on social media.

A police statement said Shigeharu Shirai was arrested Wednesday in a province north of Bangkok, where he has been hiding for over 10 years to evade murder charges in Japan in connection with the death of a rival gang member.

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 previous year. When I grow up, will I look like you?' 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.

Another giveaway: The photos showed Shirai absent the tip of his pinkie, a common self-inflicted punishment among those yakuza who've made a mistake.

The seemingly innocent images were shared more than 10,000 times and were spotted by police in Japan, who alerted their Thai counterparts.

Mr Shirai will face illegal entry charges before he is handed over to Japanese authorities, the police statement said.

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

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.

He was arrested for entering Thailand illegally without a passport or visa and will now be re-arrested and face prosecution in his homeland.

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.