BANGKOK (AFP): The easing of visa restrictions as part of Thailand’s efforts to boost tourism has made the country an attractive base for international criminal gangs, officials said yesterday. Songkram Chuenpibal, deputy secretary of the National Security Council, said instituting a visa-on-arrival system for many countries allowed unwanted elements to filter through. “There are Mafia gangs, drugs-trafficking gangs and money-laundering gangs based here, mostly in Pattaya and Bangkok,” he told reporters. “The problem stems from the tourism policy granting visas on arrival from many countries to attract more tourists. Of the greatest concern at the moment are Russian and German gangs,” he added, especially since the breakdown of the former Soviet Union. But Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Pradech Phayakvichien said blaming visa policies for rising transnational crime was unfair and simply an effort to pass on responsibility. “The fact is that getting a visa on arrival is no different from getting a visa at an embassy or consulate,” he said. “If you’re on the black-list you get caught. If not, then you don’t,” he said. He said tourism had been a lifesaver during the economic downturn, bringing in much-needed foreign currency. He said the more tourists came to the country, the greater was the likelihood that criminals would be among them : “It is simple mathematics. If you have more cars there are more accidents.” Although final figures have yet to come in, Thailand’s tourism industry posted robust growth of 11.1 percent in the nine months to September 1999.
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