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Phuket Corruption: Senate probes alleged police protection racket

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: A senate subcommittee on police graft and corruption is in Phuket investigating allegations of an alleged police protection racket targeting tailor shops in Phuket’s Kata-Karon area.

Subcommittee chairman Pol Gen Jongrak Juthanon said the investigation follows complaints made by people in Kata-Karon that tailor shops and other retail businesses that employ ethnic Nepalis are forced to hand over 2,000 baht per person for the police to ‘look the other way’.

Ethnic Nepalis make up the bulk of the so-called “tailor touts” who approach and annoy foreign tourists in popular resort areas like Patong and Kata-Karon.

Although some of the Nepalis have work permits allowing them to work in some trades, sales work is restricted to Thai nationals under labor law.

“Now we have collected about 80% of the required information from both the accusers and the accused, and we will probably wrap up the investigation in about two weeks. Then we will present our findings to the Senate in order for the government to find a solution.

“I can promise we are conducting our probe in a way that is fair for both sides,” Gen Jongrak said.

The alleged protection racket is the only complaint of its type that his panel has received from Phuket, but it is one that has generated a large number of complaints by people claiming losses, he added.

One of those filing a complaint was Karon Tambon Chief Winai Chidchiew.

The call for justice at the national level was needed because previous efforts to stop people from collecting bribes from business owners who hire ethnic Nepalis had failed, Mr Winai said.

One of the tailors who gave testimony said he was required to pay 2,000 baht a month per employee to a ‘bag man’ for police protection, but that he had no way of knowing if the money was ever actually delivered to the police.

Either way, the collection of protection fees is improper, he said.

The Phuket Gazette has received many reports of similar rackets operating on the island over the years. In October 2007, Pakistani restaurant owner Marmoon Butt was stabbed repeatedly by a fellow Pakistani after he failed to pay a protection fee for his business in Patong.

Although “tailor touts” are a common source of recurring complaints made by tourists, and despite the fact that the touts number in the thousands and are highly visible, there have been few, if any, crackdowns on them in Phuket.

Because they are deemed to have superior English-language skills, ethnic Nepalis from Burma, Vietnamese and other foreign nationals make up a large portion of the staff involved in the sale of counterfeit goods in places like Patong and Kata-Karon.

Operators of such businesses in Phuket are currently waiting to see how the recent installation of Gen Priewpan Damapong as the new national police chief will affect them.

The naming of a new national police chief in Thailand is traditionally followed by a number of high-profile police “crackdowns”… which then fade away, allowing decades-old systems to resume business as usual.

UPDATE: Phuket Immigration Police Superintendent Panuwat Ruamrak told the Gazette yesterday that his office had not been contacted by the investigation team and that he had no comment on the matter. [added September 6, 2011]

 

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