Fugitive Japanese yakuza boss arrested in Lop Buri

Fugitive Japanese yakuza boss arrested in Lop Buri

Shineharu Shirai, 72, a Japanese yakuza boss wanted for the murder of a rival gangster in Japan, caught in Lop Buri after 14 years hiding out in Thailand. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
Shineharu Shirai, 72, a Japanese yakuza boss wanted for the murder of a rival gangster in Japan, caught in Lop Buri after 14 years hiding out in Thailand. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

An elderly Japanese man arrested in Lop Buri admits to having been a boss of yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza syndicate, is wanted for colluding in the murder of a rival gangster and has been on the run for 14 years, according to police.

A combined team of Interpol, local and immigration police apprehended Shineharu Shirai, 72, in tambon Tha Hin of Muang district, Lop Buri, on Wednesday while he was out walking to buy food.

He has been charged initially with immigration offences - illegal entry and illegally being in the country. 

Mr Shirai is wanted by Japanese authorities for allegedly colluding with seven other gang members in the murder of a key member of a rival yakuza criminal syndicate, the kamiya, in mid-July 2003. After the crime he fled Japan and until recently his whereabouts remained unknown.

Then Japanese authorities learned he was hiding in Thailand and had a Thai wife. They sought help from the Royal Thai Police in tracking down the suspect.

Police finally found him in Lop Buri, which led to his arrest.

The suspect has intricate tattoos all over his torso and is missing the little finger on his left hand - both signs of his yakuza membership.

Pol Col Ukrit Pooklan, deputy chief of Lop Buri police, said the suspect enjoyed going to a market in Muang district to buy food, and played chess with local people there almost every day.

Chess players called him "Kobori'' and nobody knew he was the leader of a yakuza gang, 

He also liked to show his samurai  tattoos to young men. Photos of him were posted online.

The images of his tattoos were subsequently copied and  sent to the Japanese embassy, which later confirmed the tattoos were those of a yakuza gang member, Pol Col Ukrit said.

He had a Thai wife, but they divorced 2-3 years ago. (continues below)

Senior police examine tattoos covering the suspect's torso. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

Pol Gen Veerachai Songmetra, deputy national police chief, said on Thursday afternoon that during questioning the suspect admitted to having been the leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate in Japan. It had 23,400 members. 

Mr Shirai did not confess to the murder charge against him in Japan, said Pol Gen Veerachai, who travelled to Lop Buri to interrogate the man.

“Evidence obtained by Japanese authorities clearly indicated that Mr Shirai colluded with seven other gang members in the killing of Kashihiko Otobe, deputy leader of the Kamiya gang. 

"The seven other gang members were caught in Japan and sentenced to 12-17 years in prison,"’ the deputy national police chief said. 

While he was in hiding in Thailand Mr Shirai had hired himself out as a casual labourer, painting houses and carrying sacks of rice at a mill. He told police his Japanese friends visited him 2-3 times a year and gave him 10,000 baht each time, according to Pol Gen Veerachai.

He told police he had quarrelled often with his Thai wife, Arissara, and they eventually ended their relationship. He now lived alone and tried to keep a low profile for fear that his secret would be uncovered,  the deputy police chief said.

The suspect had no passport and no entry documents.

An investigation was underway to find out who helped him enter the country and who gave him shelter. 

Mr Shirai was initially charged with illegal entry and illegally residing in Thailand. Police were coordinating  with Japanese authorities, he said.

Police on Thursday took Mr Shirai to a rice mill where he sometimes worked, a Chinese shrine where he stayed, and a place where he played chess with Thais.

Shineharu Shirai, 72, is taken to a place in Lop Buri where he often played chess with local Thais after fleeing arrest in Japan, and was known as "Kobori". (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The suspect is taken to a rice mill in Lop Buri where he sometimes worked. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

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