When a resident of Thailand noticed an old man playing checkers on the side of the street, he couldn’t stop himself from taking several photos of what stood out. Eventually, those photos would lead to the arrest of a man who authorities say was once a crime boss.
The photographer noticed the old man’s body was covered in intricate tattoos. What’s more, he was missing one of his pinky fingers, according to AFP.
After the photos were posted online, they soon went viral, garnering over 10,000 shares. That’s when Japanese authorities realized there was something about the old man that seemed familiar.
In 2003, yakuza crime boss Shigeharu Shirai was a suspect in the shooting death of a rival gang’s leader. Japanese police sought to arrest him, but he was able to escape to Thailand in 2005, where he apparently got married and disappeared into relative obscurity.
Japanese police were tipped off by the old man’s gang tattoos, which helped prove to them he was associated with the yakuza. Additionally, it is often customary for yakuza members to cut off their pinky finger when they make a mistake.
Believing the man in the photos to be the alleged crime boss, they contacted Thai authorities, who arrested Shirai last week while he was out shopping.
After being taken into custody, Shirai, now 72, soon admitted he was more than just an ordinary retiree.
“The suspect admitted that he was the leader of the Yakuza sub-gang Kodokai,” said Thai police spokesman General Wirachai Songmetta, who was referring to an affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi — Japan’s most prominent yakuza gang.
The yakuza, while not technically illegal in Japan, are involved in numerous shady criminal dealings in Japan, including drug-dealing, prostitution, white-collar crime and loan-sharking.
Shirai, though, has been accused of murdering a rival gang leader — a crime for which some of his associates spent more than a decade in prison.
“The suspect has not confessed to murder but has admitted that the victim used to bully him,” Songmetta said.
According to police, Shirai maintained a “low profile” while he was in Thailand. Several times each year, he was reportedly given money by a man from Japan who came to visit.
Shirai was charged by Thai authorities with entering the country illegally, and he was set to be extradited to Japan to face trial for murder.
The yakuza first originated in the 17th century in Japan, though they became a multi-billion dollar crime syndicate in the decades following World War II. According to The U.K. Telegraph, there are currently 21 yakuza factions, with roughly 60,000 members spread throughout the world.
For a long time, the crime organization has been allowed to survive in Japan, as they are seen as a “necessary evil,” AFP reported.
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