Meat company boss faces political charges
PHUKET TOWN: Belgian businessman Hugo Van Der Velde, 62, was today charged with becoming illegally involved in Thai politics after a complaint from the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party that he had been passing out business cards describing him as a consultant to the party. Four other foreigners, another Belgian, an Australian, an Italian and a Briton, are expected to face similar charges soon. The business cards, bearing the logo of the Prime Minister’s party, gave Van Der Velde’s title as “Special Honorary Consultant” to “Thai Rak Thai Party No. 129 (P)”. This chapter of the party does not exist, Kittichai Engchuan, a TRT representative from Bangkok, told a press conference at the offices of the Phuket Immigration Police this morning. Pol Col Apirak Hongthong, Superintendent of the Phuket Immigration Police, said that it had been established that the cards had been given to Van Der Velde by a Phang Nga politician. Phuket Governor CEO Pongpayome Vasaputi, also at the press conference, said, “According to the law, a person who is not a Thai national by birth may not be a member of, or be in a position in, or be involved in any activity of a political party.” The penalties, he said, were up to two years in prison, or a fine of up to 40,000 baht, or both. Col Apirak said, “During the past two months, [the Phang Nga politician] has come to the Immigration Office many times [to help foreigners], and has been involved in shady dealings with foreigners, especially with foreigners believed to have committed crimes.” He said that it had also been discovered that Mr Van Der Velde’s visa to stay in Thailand had expired and that he had no work permit for his meat business. He will face additional charges on these two counts. Van Der Velde did not deny the accusation relating to the business cards. He told the Gazette that he was given the cards and didn’t want to refuse them because he felt it was impolite to reject a gift from “a good friend”. He added, “I have to tell you this has nothing to do with Mafia. This has to do with the relationship between foreigners and Thai people. “I know [the Phang Nga politiician] and I can tell you that he is absolutely a good man. He wants to create a group for foreigners in order to have nice discussions about what is going on, how it can be better, and so on. So his intention, absolutely, is not bad. “Maybe he made a mistake, and maybe we made a mistake to take the cards, but we didn’t know about this. If a Thai person gives a gift to you, then you have to accept it. Otherwise you are not polite. “Anyway, I am very sorry that I [became involved] in this case, but the intentions were very good,” Van Der Velde explained. Van Der Velde and the other four foreigners, once they have been arrested, are expected to face trial. If found guilty, and after paying the penalty, they may be expelled from Thailand. Van Der Velde was planning to open a new branch of his Phuket Meat and Food Co in Patong Beach next Sunday (October 13), said Col Apirak. “For him, this was a good date to choose because it is Police Day. Unfortunately, he was arrested before that date,” said Pol Col Apirak. Gov Pongpayome urged people who felt that they had been conned through the use of phony Thai Rak Thai business cards to come forward with details. “We want to reduce crime committed by either Thais or foreigners in Phuket,” he said.
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