Phuket Impact: British couple fights Bangkok airport extortionists

BANGKOK / PHUKET: A British couple who were falsely accused of shoplifting at Bangkok’s Suvarnaphumi airport and were forced to pay £8,000 (approx 450,000 baht) in bribes to secure their release, are to take legal action for compensation.

London’s Times Online reported today that the couple were the victims of an extortion racket that has ensnared other foreign travelers at the notorious airport, which handles most of the 800,000 British visitors to Thailand every year.

Stephen Ingram, 49, and Xi Lin, 45, both technology professionals from Cambridge, were detained by security guards as they went to board Qantas flight QF1 to London on the night of April 25.

They were accused of stealing a Givenchy wallet worth £121 (approx 6,800 baht) from a King Power duty-free shop and were handed over to the police. An official release order from the local Thai prosecutor’s office subsequently conceded there was no evidence against them.

King Power operates in the airports of both Phuket and Chiangmai, but there have been no reports of extortion in either of those major international tourist destinations.

The Times Online story claims they were freed five days later after a frightening ordeal in which they said they were threatened and detained at a cheap motel on the airport perimeter until they handed over the money.

They alleged the bribes were paid to an intermediary named Sunil “Tony” Rathnayaka, a Sri Lankan national in his fifties who works as a “volunteer” interpreter for Thailand’s Tourist Police.

“Our main motivation [in suing] is to protect other innocent British tourists from being caught up in this nightmare,” said Ingram last week. “We intend to take every legal means to recover our money and obtain justice.”

Last week Rathnayaka admitted in a telephone interview that he had received cash and money transfers amounting to more than 7,000 pounds from the Britons. He said the money was for police “bail” and for a payment to a figure he called “Little Big Man” who could withdraw the case against them.

“In Thailand everyone knows it’s like that,” Rathnayaka said. “They can go to jail or they can just pay a ‘fine’ and go home. It is corruption, you know?”

Rathnayaka also agreed that the £4,000 in “bail” money was never returned to Ingram and Xi. Thai law requires that bail be refunded.

In a detailed statement, the couple said they were first detained at an airport office of the tourist police and later taken to cells at a police station in an isolated building on the fringes of the airport.

Rathnayaka confirmed that he met them in those cells on the morning of Sunday, April 26, and arranged the “bail”. The police kept the couple’s passports. Rathnayaka then escorted Ingram and Xi to the Valentine Resort, a lurid pink motel a few hundred yards from the runways. They were to remain there for four days.

During that time, Rathnayaka warned them not to tell anyone about their plight, especially the British embassy, lawyers, friends, family or the press.

However, on April 27 they sneaked out of the hotel and found their way to the embassy, where they met Kate Dufall, the pro-consul.

According to the couple, she told them that the embassy could not interfere with the Thai legal system. However, the embassy did put them in contact with a local Thai lawyer.

Read more in The Times Online.

Post your comments on the ThaiVisa Web Forum.

— The Nation

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