Japanese crime boss held after tattoos go viral

Shigeharu Shirai 74 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

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 past year.

Shigeharu Shirai was arrested on Wednesday evening in Lopburi province, 150 km (95 miles) north of the capital, Bangkok.

When the pictures of Mr Shirai went viral they caught the attention of Japanese police who requested his arrest.

However, while Shirai confessed to being a gang-leader, he did not admit murdering his rival. The person then shared photographs of Shirai playing a streetside checkers game, complete with the distinctive inked artwork, online, which soon went viral - being shared over 10,000 times.

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According to Thai police, he admitted he was a member of a yakuza gang but did not confess to the 2003 murder.

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 mafia-like yakuza gangs have been part of Japanese society for centuries and have an estimated 60,000 members. He had received money to live on from a Japanese man who visited him two or three times a year.

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. Each group has its own headquarters, sometimes in full view of the police, who refer to them as b?ryokudan [violent groups].

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Japanese authorities had sought his arrest over an alleged role in the shooting of a rival in 2003, after which he fled to Thailand, married a local woman and drifted into a seemingly peaceful retirement.

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.

They were tolerated as a necessary evil to keep order on the streets - however dubious the means.

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