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Japanese fugitive Shigeharu Shirai arrested in Thailand after distinctive tattoos are recognised
14 January 2018, 10:45 | Opal Carroll
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Photographs posted online by a passerby quickly went viral - and that was when everything went wrong for Shigeharu Shirai.
A former Japanese gang leader has been arrested in Thailand after more than 14 years on the run after photos of his tattoos went viral.
There was another distinctive detail: most of the little finger on his left hand was missing.
The fugitive, Shigeharu Shirai, 74, was arrested by a SWAT team on Wednesday in the sleepy central Thai market town of Lopburi while he was out shopping.
Pictures also show that he is missing part of his little finger, often a self-administered punishment for members of Japan's yakuza gangs to atone for mistakes. They sought help from the Royal Thai Police in tracking down the suspect. They are a transnational group of crime syndicates believed to have 60,000 members across 21 different factions.
While the gangs themselves are not illegal, much of their earnings are gained illicitly through gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking and cyber-hacking.
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Unlike the Italian Mafia or Chinese triads, yakuza are not illegal and each group has its own headquarters in full view of police. The gangs calls themselves ninky? dantai [chivalrous organisations]. 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).
Traditionally they have been tolerated as a necessary evil to keep order on the streets, although the authorities are now trying to reign in their criminal behaviour, banning banks from allowing gangsters to set up accounts.
With no passport or visa, he was officially arrested for entering Thailand illegally and will be extradited to face prosecution in Japan.
Members of the gangs traditionally distinguish themselves with intricate tattoos, which come to symbolise a person's toughness and acceptance of being an outcast from society.
Officials said Shirai had built a "low profile" life in Thailand and had married a local woman.
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