Tattoos lead Thai police to Japanese yakuza murder suspect

Reuters, AP, Kyodo

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, Thai police said on Thursday.

Shigeharu Shirai was arrested Wednesday evening in Lopburi province, 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of the capital, Bangkok. Police said he had confessed to being part of the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza organization, but not to murder.

Shirai is accused of being one of eight gangsters involved in the murder of another gang leader in 2003. The other seven have been arrested but Shirai escaped to Thailand in 2005.

“He admitted that the victim had been bullied and there might have been plots within the yakuza subgroups to kill him … but he has not confessed to murdering the fellow gang leader,” said Wirachai Songmetta, Thailand’s deputy police chief.

It was not possible to contact Shirai or a representative for comment.

His arrest apparently came after photos of him sitting around a checkers table were posted on Facebook in August last year by a Thai who was impressed by the man’s tattoos. The post was shared over 10,000 times when some users identified the former crime boss.

Police say Japanese associates paid visits to Shirai two to three times a year, each time bearing cash gifts of around 10,000 baht ($312).

Japanese police put the former gangster on an international wanted list for his alleged involvement in the murder of Kazuhiko Otobe, a senior member of a group connected with the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, who was shot dead in Mie Prefecture in central Japan in July 2003.

The suspect and victim belonged to the same group, according to Japanese police.

“Once Thai police prosecute a case against him, we will extradite him to Japan,” said Virachai Thongmetta, Thailand’s deputy national police chief.

Shirai will be charged with illegally entering Thailand and then deported to Japan to face the murder charges.

Police have also said they would investigate other suspected yakuza gangsters in Thailand even if they did not have an arrest warrant.

Thailand is notorious for the presence of foreign gangsters. Last month Thai police arrested four members of a Hells Angels biker gang accused of drugs offenses, violence, and posing a threat to society.