Tattoos lead Thai police to arrest Japanese gang member

Japanese gang member Shigeharu Shirai displays his tattoos at a police station during a press conference in Lopburi, central Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Thai police have arrested the 72-year-old fugitive who was recognized when his full-body tattoos were circulated online. A police statement says Shirai was arrested Wednesday in a province north of Bangkok, where he has been hiding for over 10 years to evade murder charges in Japan in connection with the death of a rival gang member. (AP Photo)
Japanese gang member Shigeharu Shirai displays his tattoos at a police station during a press conference in Lopburi, central Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Thai police have arrested the 72-year-old fugitive who was recognized when his full-body tattoos were circulated online. A police statement says Shirai was arrested Wednesday in a province north of Bangkok, where he has been hiding for over 10 years to evade murder charges in Japan in connection with the death of a rival gang member. (AP Photo)

BANGKOK — Thai police said they have arrested a 74-year-old fugitive Japanese gang member who was recognized when photos of his full-body tattoos were circulated online.

A police statement said Shigeharu Shirai was arrested Wednesday in a province north of Bangkok where he has been hiding for over 10 years to evade murder charges in Japan in connection with the death of a rival gang member.

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 and some users identified the former gang member.

Police Gen. Wirachai Songmetta said Japanese associates paid visits to Shirai two to three times a year, each time bearing cash gifts. He is married to a Thai woman and kept a low profile over the past decade, police said.

Shirai will face illegal entry charges before he is handed over to Japanese authorities, the police statement said.

Police said Shirai was implicated, along with seven others, in the killing of Kazuhiko Otobe. Japan's Kyodo News service said police in Mie prefecture had obtained an arrest warrant in the 15-year-old case.

Shirai and Otobe were members of small rival factions affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza, or underworld, syndicate.

Tattoos on the back, upper arms and a missing tip of a little finger are trademarks of Japanese yakuza. Tattooed guests are often refused entry to public baths and swimming pools.

According to the National Police Agency, 22 organizations were designated as organized crime groups in 2017, with membership totaling more than 20,000. Almost three-quarters of the gangsters belong to the Yamaguchi-gumi and two other groups, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, which together dominate Japan's underworld.

In addition to illegal drug sales and gambling, which are their traditional ways of earning money, gangsters also have entered construction, finance and security businesses.

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Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show name of rival is Kazuhiko instead of Kashihiko, age of Shirai is 74 instead of 72.

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