Japan fugitive nabbed after massive three-week manhunt

Japan enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the developed world

Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese police took a fugitive thief into custody on Monday, more than three weeks after he fled an open prison with more than 6,000 officers deployed for the high-profile manhunt.

Tatsuma Hirao, 27, a “model” inmate who was serving time for multiple thefts, was arrested on a street near Hiroshima railway station in western Japan, a local police spokesman told AFP.

He was captured some 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Mukaishima island, where police had focused their manhunt and deployed helicopters, drones, police dogs and infrared detectors.

The case made headline news in Japan with TV channels picking over the manhunt in minute detail.

Hirao gave guards the slip on April 8, vanishing from the facility, an “open institution” where inmates can walk around freely.

Police detected the fugitive’s fingerprints and several thefts have been reported since his escape.

The stolen items included socks, a mobile phone, a wallet, a pair of sandals and a car key, whose owner found a polite note — apparently from the fugitive — saying: “I’m borrowing your car but I’ll never damage it.”

Justice Minister Yoko Kawakami made a rare apology for the difficulties in recapturing the criminal.

A total of 20 inmates have escaped since the prison opened in 1961.

Japan enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the developed world but has a relatively high reoffending rate.