Burmese labor extortionist busted in Phuket sting

PHUKET TOWN: A man posing as a government official was arrested on Wednesday for extorting money at a Burmese construction workers’ camp.

Leading the arrest was Thammarong Chuy-aksorn, deputy chief administrative officer of Thalang District, who led a team of 14 undercover officers to carry out a sting operation at the camp.

Mr Thammarong said the action followed numerous complaints from construction project supervisors on the island, most in Thalang.

The supervisors said a man calling himself ‘Inspector M’ and claiming to be a government officer was extorting money from the camps by promising not to report the presence of unregistered Burmese workers in exchange for cash payoffs.

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The man, who allegedly brandished a .45 handgun to intimidate people, claimed he was under orders to conduct a survey of alien workers for the National Intelligence Agency.

The camp where the man’s extortion campaign ended is on the site of a large residential estate project by a large Bangkok-based development company off Thepkrasattri Road in Thalang.

The project foreman was first approached by the man on February 28.

He reported the extortion attempt to the Phuket Governor’s Damrongtham Complaints Center, which asked the Thalang District Security Division to apprehend the man and bring him in for police questioning.

The foreman arranged to meet the man to pay a bribe of 1,000 baht at the site at 3pm.

When ‘Inspector M’ arrived, Mr Thammarong’s men were in the camp disguised as construction workers.

After the foreman handed over the money, the team moved in and arrested ‘Inspector M’ without a struggle.

Inspector M was later identified as Somrit Patanon, a 47-year-old resident of Cherng Talay.

A search of his person uncovered a picture ID badge with the logo of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), a .45-caliber pistol, a sound recording device, a pair of handcuffs, a digital camera, a police radio, a notebook containing lists of construction sites, and many more items.

Mr Somrit confessed to charges of impersonating a government officer, but denied using threatening behavior.

He claimed he was just the bag man for a very high ranking district officer and a village headman who were behind the racket.

Mr Thammarong and his men escorted Mr Somrit to Thalang Police Station for questioning.

The extortion attempt is hardly the first of its kind in Phuket.

There was a spate of extortion attempts at Burmese labor camps in 2008, including one that ended in murder.

For other cases, click here and here.

— Pimwara Choksakulpan

Phuket News
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