Ex-Leader of The Japanese Yakuza Catch in Thailand

Tattoos were the track with which the Japanese police gave in Thailand with one of the most wanted fugitives in Japan. Shigeharu Shirai, 72, former head of the Japanese Yakuza, was wanted for participating in the murder of the leader of a rival gang in July 2003.

Photographs of his tattoos were made viral on the internet – they were shared more than 10,000 times and they betrayed the identity of this mobster who lacks the little finger of one of his hands – as a result of a ritual that members of the Yakuza carry out to atone for their faults.

Shigeharu Shirai remained anonymous for 15 years, had no passport, no visa. Shirai wanted to remain discreet but did not expect that the images of his tattoos, which cover his chest and back and that circulated through social networks since August, would give him away. An admirer of his own brands photographed him without his noticing, and he published the images on Facebook, without knowing that he had portrayed a fugitive from justice.

Alerted, the Japanese police contacted Interpol, which asked the Thai authorities to investigate it. For the moment, they accuse him only for having illegally entered the country, while investigating who helped him enter the country and who gave him shelter, he will be extradited to Japan.

“The suspect acknowledged to be the head of the Yakuza Kodokai gang,” Wirachai Songmetta, spokesman for the Thai police, said on Thursday. He added: “The suspect did not confess the murder but acknowledged that the victim was threatening him.” The band that belongs to one of the great yakuza groups, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Kobori, as his chess friends called him, had a peaceful life in Lopburi, a town of 54,000 inhabitants located in central Thailand, known as the city of monkeys. This man of fragile and diminutive aspect used to play in the afternoon with friends and then went to the market to buy food. From time to time he had fun showing his tattoos to the youngest of the place. On Wednesday, the day he was arrested, he was playing checkers on the street.

After the crime she committed more than a decade ago, Shirai disappeared and in 2005 she took refuge in Thailand, where she married a woman, from whom she divorced more than two years ago. To make a living, he took occasional jobs, such as painting houses and transporting sacks of rice to a mill and receiving money from his country. Between two or three times a year, some friends of his visited him and gave him 10,000 baths (260 euros) each time, according to Shirai’s statements.

Japanese mafia groups, like the Italian Mafiosi or the Chinese triad, live mainly from gambling, drugs and prostitution, although they also participate in real estate operations or extortion of companies. The Yakuza appeared in Japan after the Second World War. Their presence is authorized on the island although part of their activities are prohibited. Some sociologists claim that their presence diminishes the common petty crime.

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