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Phuket vendors protest alleged corruption, extortion

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Seaside souvenir stall merchants in Kata and Karon have called on Phuket authorities to take action against alleged unfair treatment and intimidation by local authorities.

About 50 Karon and Kata kiosk owners on Tuesday took their grievances to the Damrongtham Center, which serves as the provincial ombudsman’s office.

Stall owner Somchai Pandum led the group in submitting an official complaint to Prapun Kanaprasang, head of the Damrongtham Center.

Mr Prapun assured the kiosk owners that the letter would be forwarded to Phuket Governor Tri Augkaradacha as requested.

The operators of paeng loi, literally “floating stalls”, alleged that Karon tambon chief Winai Chitchiew had been extorting money from them for police protection and asked for him to be removed.

They claimed they had been singled out in raids led by the chief on grounds of employing illegal migrant workers and dealing in imitation brand-name watches, sunglasses, hats and bags.

Mr Somchai told the Phuket Gazette that on the first of each month, Winai and his associates came around to collect 2,500 baht for each migrant worker employed in exchange for assurance that police would not interfere.

Mr Somchai said that if any shop owner refused to pay, or openly expressed opposition to the intimidation, Winai unjustly used his influence to have the shop raided.

There are reportedly up to 300 shops near beaches in Kata and Karon, each employing up to three Nepalese or Burmese migrant workers, who by Thai labor law are banned from working in sales positions.

Mr Somchai told the Gazette that Winai, with one associate and a tuk-tuk driver, raided his shop last Tuesday.

The raid cost him about 400,000 baht worth of merchandise, he said.

“This unfair treatment impedes our ability to make a living,” he said.

“We already live hand-to-mouth as it is,” he added.

Somchai said he and his group of fellow vendors filed a report at Chalong Police Station last Friday.

Soon after, the tambon chief was summoned for questioning, he said.

However, Kamnan Winai was adamant in telling the Gazette that he was not responsible for raids.

“I’m not involved in the collection of money from people,” he said.

“It’s police officers who are collecting money from them. I have video evidence that it is police officers doing this,” he added.

The 50 vendors who complained to the Damrongtham Center on Tuesday were paid by police, he said.

“The Chalong Police superintendent hired them to complain about me. I’m not involved in anything here and I’m going to sue Somchai for reporting to police that I stole from him,” he added.

Chalong Police Superintendent Kraithong Junthongbai this afternoon told the Gazette, “I cannot comment on this at this time because we are currently investigating complaints against Kamnan Winai.”

 

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