Four charged with million-baht “black money’ scam

PATONG: Police on Wednesday charged four West African men with swindling a Patong restaurateur and his brother out of one million baht, using a classic “black money” scam. Pol Col Kokiat Wongvorachart, superintendent of Kathu Police Station, named the four arrested men as: Gala Sompson, 24, and David Woshington Je, 23, both from Liberia, and John Cacosta, 30, and Goodrid Jonatan, 37, from Sierra Leone. Two other gang members are being sought by the police. They were named as Arthur Gay, 30, the alleged ringleader, and Eric Gaye, 26, both from Liberia. Marco Benaglia, 33, the owner of a pizza restaurant in Patong, and his twin brother Paolo met the con-artists at the Expat Hotel in Patong. Woshington told them that his father was the chairman of a bank in Liberia responsible for handling aid from the United States. Woshington explained that the political situation in Liberia had deteriorated so much that his father had asked him to take two million dollars’ worth of US aid and invest it in Thailand. Over the next three weeks, during meetings in Patong and Bangkok, he explained to the brothers that, in order to smuggle the aid – which was all in cash – from Liberia to Thailand, it had been dyed black so that customs officers in the two countries would not realize what it was. The problem, the Africans explained, was that the cash now needed to be “washed” using a special chemical in order to remove the dye, and the Africans did not have the money to buy the chemical. Their proposition was simple: the twins could buy the dyed notes (plus a “certificate” from the “American Bank Association”) for just 150,000 baht. To buy the chemical to “wash” the notes, they would have to put up a further 800,000 baht, the Africans explained. The conmen arranged a demonstration at Marco Benaglia’s house on Nanai Rd, Patong, during which a US$50 note was “washed”. The Benaglia brothers agreed to go ahead with the deal. They handed over the 150,000 baht and received a suitcase full of black “notes”. Marco Benaglia then borrowed 800,000 baht from a friend, which he handed over to Arthur Gay at a clandestine meeting outside the American Embassy in Bangkok last Friday. Gay reappeared a couple of hours later with bottles of what appeared to be the chemical. The partners then went for a lavish celebratory dinner at McDonald’s in Patpong. After placing his order at the counter, Mr Benaglia turned around to see that his friends had disappeared. After waiting for an hour for them to return, he called the police. On Monday, the police arrested Sompson, Woshington, Cacosta and Jonatan in a hotel room in Bangkok. Arthur Gay and Eric Gaye had already left the hotel, taking the money with them. The four men were brought to Phuket for charges to be laid against them. “This is the third time this has happened in Patong,” said Col Kokiat. “The first time, in 1991, the victim lost about 3 million baht. Fortunately, the police recovered the money and returned it. The second time, late last year, the victim was nearly tricked out of 300,000 baht”. It is estimated that, with travel, meals and hotel costs included, Marco and Paolo Benaglia lost approximately 1 million baht.

Phuket News

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