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Breaking News: Army to probe Phuket visa run “cash for clearance’ claims at Sadao

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PHUKET: Reports of foreigners returning from visa runs to Malaysia being asked to pay 200 baht in cash to clear immigration at the Sadao checkpoint are to be directed to the regional Army chief for Southern Thailand, the Phuket Gazette confirmed yesterday.

“I was doing a trip with a visa-run company to Penang, Malaysia,” said one British expat, who asked not to be named.

“On the way back, two minutes before we reached the Thai-immigration side, the driver asked us to place 200 baht cash inside our passports.”

Col Somchai Ponatong, the highest-ranking Army officer in Phuket, called on foreigners to report any such solicitations directly to him.

“Anyone who is told by a visa run company to pay immigration officers, or who has had money extorted from them, please report to me directly,” Col Somchai told the Gazette.

“Sadao is beyond my authority, so I will pass any reports to my superior, Army Region 4 Commander Walit Rojanapakdee.”

Col Somchai asked that people contact him via the Line chat application.

“My personal Line application ID is: ‘number.one.’,” he said.

The call for reports of “cash for clearance” claims follows two foreigners reporting that a Phuket visa-run company van driver had asked his passengers to “put 200 baht in each of your passports” before re-entering Thailand.

The payments would reportedly prevent immigration officers from asking each foreigner to prove he or she had access to at least 20,000 baht to pay for their stay in the Kingdom, as required by law.

Sadao Immigration Deputy Superintendent Banphot Kittivira denied the allegations.

“I have not heard anything about this. We are always strict on ensuring that officers do not take any money from tourists. However, I will look into it,” he told the Gazette.

Preeyapan Adithepwarangkul, owner of KBV Visa Run (click here), said she was unaware of any cash payments to immigration officers at Sadao.

“I do not know what happened out there, but we would never support our drivers asking customers to bribe officers. There is no need to do that,” she said.

“We inform our customers to prepare either 20,000 baht cash or make sure they can prove they have the money in their bank accounts so they can show officers at the checkpoint.”

Regardless, Ms Preeyapan said that she would raise the issue with her drivers.

“I will call them in to make sure none of them ask customers to pay bribes. There is no benefit in this for the drivers or the company,” she said.

A staffer at Thai Visa Run (click here) also assured the Gazette that her company did not suggest foreigners pay immigration officers any money to re-enter the country.

“We tell our customers to make sure they can prove they have 20,000 baht in the bank. Bribing officers is not our job. We cannot tell officers to do or not do anything,” she said.

The claims follow similar reports in July alleging that immigration officers at Phuket International Airport were soliciting cash from foreigners to use a VIP lane to avoid long queues.

Airport Immigration Deputy Superintendent Watcharapol Kanjanakuntorn denied the claims, saying that his officers had never solicited payments from tourists (story here).

A senior military officer who questioned Lt Col Watcharapol about the alleged practice fell silent about any progress in the investigation just days later (story here).

He also declined to say whether or not his officers would be reviewing CCTV footage taken within the immigration arrivals hall at Phuket Airport for evidence of whether or not the alleged payments had been routinely collected.

The military officer declined to be named.

— Chutharat Plerin

 

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