Immigration Dept: corruption exposed
PHUKET: A major investigation has been launched into the activities of Immigration officers in Patong after the seizure of some 40 passports in Haad Yai in recent days. The passports were on their way back from Malaysia after being sent for “visa run” renewals and are now in the possession of the Immigration Department in Bangkok. Among those whose passports were seized was an American tourist who spoke with the Gazette on condition of anonymity. He said, “I came here on a 30-day visa issued at the airport. I went to Immigration in Patong to see if I could extend my visa to stay longer. They said that they could take my passport down to Malaysia and get it stamped for another 30 days. The fee was 2,500 baht.” He stressed that the Immigration officer he spoke with, whom he named as Somchai, gave him the impression that this was the correct way to extend a visa. “They gave me no indication that this was corrupt. They were smiling and it seemed very much a standard procedure. “I went there on Monday and they told me that the big boss from Bangkok had taken the passports to the capital. They said their boss, in Patong, went to try and get the passports back, but on Tuesday they said that I had to go to Bangkok myself to get my passport back.” Somchai, he said, had generously given him a refund out of his own pocket – plus 200 baht a day for 18 days [the overstay fee]. “I asked him, ‘What about my airfare to Bangkok and the cost of the hotel?’ In the end he gave me a total of about 9,500 baht out of his wallet as compensation.” The American said that Somchai, who was out of uniform and met him in a back room of the Patong Immigration Department, looked “very worried”. He added, “The whole [atmosphere in the] office was different from a couple weeks ago.” He then contacted the US Embassy in Bangkok, who had already been notified of the situation and who told him that he must go to Bangkok to retrieve his passport from the Immigration Department there, where he would also have to answer questions. Pol Col Apirak Hongtong, Superintendent of the Phuket Immigration Police, confirmed the crackdown on the longstanding illegal issuance of visas. “I’ve known about it for a long time,” he said. “And I’ve looked into the matter and issued orders from time to time, but there are still some officers who resisted. But we’ve taken action. We haven’t ignored it. “We have already transferred the officers out of Patong and are waiting for further orders from the Commissioner for Immigration. The passports are at the Immigration Department in Bangkok. The foreigners are going up to Bangkok to testify and we are awaiting the results. “As for our officers, we have taken disciplinary action. If there is any evidence that they are involved in either civil or criminal offences, we will take further action.” The Gazette has received numerous complaints over the years from readers who found it impossible to obtain correctly-issued visas. This was because Immigration officers were more interested in issuing illegal visas, in return for bribes, than legitimate ones, the applicants said. A local foreign resident contacted by the Gazette this afternoon noted that the illicit commercial activities of some of Phuket Immigration Department’s “marketing officers” had led to formation of feeder businesses. These specialize in illegal “visa services” that do not require long-stay tourists and resident foreigners to make visa renewal trips out of Thailand.
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