Viral Tattoo Photos Lead to Arrest of Fugitive Yakuza Member

The suspect is taken to a rice mill in Lop Buri where he sometimes worked

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.

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.

His arrest brought an end to a multi-national manhunt between the Thai Investigation Bureau and the Japanese Interpol.

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.

The Yakuza commonly punish wayward members by amputating the tip of a finger.

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

The person who posted the photos was impressed by the tattoos and captioned the photo "Uncle, you're my idol. When I grow up, will I look like you?" and it soon went viral with it being shared over 100,000 times until some users recognized the gangster's distinctive pattern of tattoos.

Authorities said Thursday a former Japanese Yakuza crime boss was arrested after 15 years on the run - for the death of a rival gangster, after a photo of his tattoos were noticed on Facebook.

Thai police say he admitted to being a member of a Yakuza gang, but he did not confess to the 2003 murder that he was wanted for.

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

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.

Police said he had confessed to being part of the Yamaguchi-gumi gang within Japan's Yakuza, but not to murder.

Police Gen. Wirachai Songmetta said that Japanese associates paid visits to Shirai two to three times a year, each time bearing cash gifts at around 10,000 baht ($312).

According to Thai officials, Shirai is expected to be extradited to Japan. These must be submitted to the court before the delivery to the Japanese police'.

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