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Phuket hitman Rambo denies death squad charges

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket hitman Rambo denies death squad charges | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48 – nicknamed “Rambo” and arrested at his rented Phuket home last Thursday, as originally reported by the Phuket Gazette (story here) – has denied charges of recruiting a team of former military snipers to commit murders on behalf of two Colombian drug cartel leaders.

The cartel leaders were, in fact, Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as druglords.

After his arrest in Phuket, Mr Hunter was quickly dispatched to Bangkok, where he was deported by DEA officers directly to New York to face charges of conspiracy, attempting to import cocaine and plotting to kill a law enforcement agent (video report here).

Testifying in a New District court on Saturday, Mr Hunter denied hiring ex-servicemen, including a former US Army sergeant and several ex-soldiers from other countries, and plotting to murder a US federal drug agent and informant as part of an international drug smuggling operation.

Asked by US Magistrate Judge Frank Haas to enter his plea, Mr Hunter responded: “Not guilty, sir.”

Mr Hunter and Timothy Vamvakias, both former US Army sergeants, and several other suspects were arrested and transported to New York to face charges that include murder and drug conspiracy, as well as illegal weapons possession.

“The bone-chilling allegations in today’s indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel,” said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement on Friday.

“The charges tell a tale of an international band of mercenary marksmen who enlisted their elite military training to serve as hired guns for evil ends,” he said.

The DEA informants agreed to pay Mr Hunter and two others US$700,000 for the two killings, as well as an additional $100,000 to Mr Hunter “for his leadership role”, according to an indictment filed in New York.

The killings were to take place in Liberia, Mr Bharara told the press conference on Friday.

Mr Hunter and his alleged accomplices – who include Vamvakias, Dennis Gogel and Michael Filter of Germany, and Slawomir Soborski of Poland – were rounded up in a US Drug Enforcement Administration sting.

While Hunter was arrested in Phuket, Vamvakias and Gogel were apprehended in Liberia, where they had travelled to commit the murders.

Mr Filter and Mr Soborski were arrested in Estonia, where they had gone to “provide other services” to the DEA informants posing as Colombians, Mr Bharara said.

Mr Bharara declined to identify the DEA agent and informant targeted for murder as part of the sting operation.

The indictment charges that Mr Hunter and his team acted as security for cocaine shipments originating in Asia and bound for the US.

In late 2012, according to the indictment, Mr Hunter “collected resumes via email for prospective members of the security team”.

Earlier this year, Mr Hunter and his team allegedly travelled to an undisclosed Asian country to discuss the drug-trafficking security work with the two informants they believed to be part of the cartel.

Mr Hunter, Mr Vamvakias and Mr Gogel were recorded discussing plans to commit the contract killings in Liberia, authorities said.

Mr Hunter told the DEA informants that “he himself had previously done ‘bonus jobs'” – code for contract killings, and that his team “wanted to do as much ‘bonus work’ as possible”, according to the indictment.

Mr Bharara said that since leaving the US military in 2004, Mr Hunter “has allegedly worked as a contract killer, arranging successfully for the murder of numerous people”.

He declined to reveal who Mr Hunter is believed to have murdered, but said he “leapt at the chance to serve the purported drug traffickers” as a hired killer.

“Thanks to the determined, skillful and intrepid efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, an international hit team has been neutralized by agents working on four continents,” he said.

The DEA’s Special Operations Division is a secretive unit within the US Department of Justice that includes representatives of the DEA, FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

In a series of stories published earlier this year, Reuters reported that the DEA’s Special Operations Division funneled information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Reuters reviewed internal government documents which showed that law enforcement agents have been trained to conceal how such investigations truly begin – to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up the original source of the information.

DEA officials said the practice is legal and has been in almost daily use since the 1990s. They have said its purpose is to protect sources and methods, not to withhold evidence.

— Reuters / Phuket Gazette

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Phuket

4 billion baht medical hub planned for Phuket

Maya Taylor

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4 billion baht medical hub planned for Phuket | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket. PHOTO: Booking.com

Phuket officials are setting aside around 4 billion baht to transform medical tourism in the southern province of Phuket, by developing a state-of-the-art treatment hub in the north of the island. The Bangkok Post reports that the Treasury department is planning to give the Public Health Ministry permission to use 141 rai of government land in the sub-district of Mai Khao, close to Phuket International Airport. It’s not the first time the proposal has come to light.

The concept is gathering support as Phuket battles to diversify its attraction beyond a tropical holiday island.

The aim is to develop Phuket as a world-class health and wellness destination, with facilities that will attract medical tourists from all over the world, as well as providing a high standard of treatment to the local population. It’s understood the facility will provide a full range of health services, including long-term care, and hospice and rehabilitation services.

The island already has a well-developed medical tourism market, but has been based around local hospitals and clinics linking up with foreign marketing companies in the past. “The International Medical and Public Health Service” has been conceived to create more long term financial security and diversification, and value-added tourism in Phuket, as the island has taken a heavy financial hit over the past 7 months.

4 billion baht medical hub planned for Phuket | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Phuket Andaman News

The plan was first suggested in 2017, by then governor, Noraphat Plodthong and confirmed by the director of Phuket’s Vachira Hospital, Dr. Chalermpong Sukontapol, in July. At that stage, the estimated budget was 3-4 billion baht. The director-general of the Treasury department, Yuthana Yimkarun, says the plot is being offered to the Health Ministry for free. The land is thought be worth around 1 billion baht.

Yuthana says the ministry will manage investment, with approximately 2 billion baht required for the first stage of the project. Construction of the facility is expected to be completed over 2 years.

Meanwhile, it’s understood that unused government land that is currently managed by various government agencies may be moved under the remit of central government, with a view to increasing its worth. According to the Bangkok Post report, just 4% of government land is directly managed by the Treasury. The other 96% is controlled by various government agencies. Yuthana says the plan is to increase the percentage of state-owned land under the Treasury’s management to 10% within 2 years.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

“Open the borders, safely”, Bill Heinecke, Minor International interview – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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“Open the borders, safely”, Bill Heinecke, Minor International interview – VIDEO | The Thaiger

Bill Heinecke speaks to Bill Barnett. The two heavy-hitters of Thailand’s hotel and hospitality sector, mull over the current Covid situation and the reopening of Thailand’s borders to some form of tourism. Bill Heinecke is the Chairman and Founder of Minor International.

Bill Barnett is the Managing Director of c9hotelworks.com

Now the Thai government has approved the special long-term tourist visa scheme (STV), hoteliers are remaining skeptical about reopening due to the lack of clarity in the recent announcement, which will reportedly take effect next month. The president of the Thai Hotels Association’s southern chapter says more hoteliers will consider reopening if the government gives further information about the plan in terms of prospective markets, arrival dates, origin countries, and flights.

Such details would allow hotels to prepare themselves ahead of time to offer services as alternative state quarantine premises as at least 60 hotels in Phuket are awaiting approval to operate such facilities.

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Bangkok

Now they’re coming… Special Tourist Visa flight set for Tuesday – Tourism and Sports Minister

Caitlin Ashworth

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Now they’re coming… Special Tourist Visa flight set for Tuesday – Tourism and Sports Minister | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Unsplash: Suhyeon Choi

After much confusion and a few apparent ‘misunderstandings’, Chinese tourists on the Special Tourist Visa will actually arrive on October 20 and 26. At least that’s what Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says, according to the Bangkok Post. The first group is said to arrive 4 days from now in Bangkok (if they actually applied for the visa this time).

Reports circulated for weeks about a flight of 120 to 150 tourists set to arrive in Phuket on October 8 from Guangzhou, China. An announcement was made shortly after the flight was due to arrive with Tourism Authority Governor Yuthasak Supasorn saying “administrative issues” had caused the delay.

It was later reported that no one from Guangzhou had actually applied for the visa and it was all just a misunderstanding after the Tourism Authority of Thailand reportedly passed off a list of those “interested” in the visa as actual applications.

This time, the Post is reporting the first group of 120 tourists from Guangzhou will arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday. Another group of 120 tourists, also from Guangzhou, will arrive on October 26, but the Post didn’t say where that flight will land.

It’s apparently the same group that was planned to arrive in Phuket on October 8, but the minister claims the trip was postponed due to the Vegetarian Festival which is planned to run until October 25. Both the Phuket governor and National Security Council secretary general had claimed the festival was the reason for the delayed flight and was intended to ease fears of Covid-19 for the festival-goers coming in from the rest of Thailand.

Even though the new long stay tourist visa is good for 90 days, and can be renewed twice, the tourists will only stay in the country for 30 days, with 14 of those days in quarantine. Phiphat says the Tourism Authority of Thailand will find activities to keep the tourists occupied while in quarantine.

The visitors will be the first international tourists after a 6 month ban to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Thai officials have been discussing plans for months about how to safely reopen borders to revive the country’s economy which is heavily driven by the tourism industry. Officals are now talking about cutting down the mandatory time for quarantine from 14 days to 7 days to help entice people to visit.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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