PHUKET CITY: German architect Frank Witzel is awaiting deportation following his arrest on June 22 by Immigration officials. He had been arrested in February as well, for working without a work permit while on a building site in Patong, and for performing work prohibited to foreigners.
Witzel had pleaded guilty to the charges in court in February. He was fined 1,000 baht and handed a one-month jail sentence, which was suspended for two years.
Witzel explained to the Gazette that the events that led to his deportation began with his company, Modern Architecture & Design, and its Patong View Talay project on a Patong hillside.
The project, built on land that Witzel owned on the hill opposite the Esso gas station on Phra Barami Rd, consists of 14 apartments priced from 4.2 million to 18.6 million baht.
Witzel, 52, had designed the project, but when it came time to renew his work permit at the beginning of this year, he ran into problems. He first tried to go to the Phuket Provincial Labor Office to renew the permit, he said, but it was closed due to a holiday.
He said that when he returned, he was told that the work permit had expired on the holiday that the office was closed, and that he would have to apply for a new permit.
He relayed the information to his staff, who failed to submit the application, he said.
On February 3, he was asked to go to the construction site by his development partner to answer questions about where pipes should be laid. At first Witzel declined since he had no work permit, he said. But his partner assured him it would be a fast job, so he drove out to the site.
Once there, he pointed out where the pipes should be laid, but suddenly found himself confronted by Immigration officers who had driven out to the site to do a “spot inspection”. Unable to produce his work permit, Witzel was taken to the Immigration Office in Phuket City and charged with working without a permit.
He was also charged with performing work prohibited to foreigners – specifically, working as an engineer and architect.
Witzel faced a penalty of a 2,000-baht fine and two months in jail, but when he pleaded guilty his penalty was reduced to 1,000 baht and one month in jail.
Since he had no criminal record his month in jail was suspended for two years, so he paid the fine and was released. He thought that would be the end of it, but he was unclear about other implications in the court’s decision, he said.
It developed that he still had to deal with Immigration regulations which state that any foreigner convicted of a crime is subject to deportation. According to the Immigration Act, B.E. 2522, Section 12, any foreigner who violates Ministerial regulations can be prevented from re-entering the Kingdom after being deported.
Witzel said he was never made aware of those regulations and was surprised when he was arrested again on June 22, thrown in the Immigration detention facility, and told that he would have to remain outside the country for at least two years.
His lawyers – he has gone through three so far – have been in negotiations with Immigration officials to try to reduce his time out of the country, and Witzel has been told that he may be barred from entering Thailand ever again if the Immigration officials in Bangkok so rule.
In the meantime, Witzel, who had a heart attack and bypass operation in Germany last year, was transferred out of the Immigration jail, after spending six days there, then into Mission Hospital, and finally released on bond. He now awaits deportation.
Witzel’s German business partner has bought out most of his interest in the Patong project and his architecture firm. Witzel told the Gazette he stands to lose a large investment if he is forced to stay out of Thailand.
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