SPECIAL REPORT: Fears of Phuket abductions

Special Report:

It is a typical story in Phuket: a taxi or van picks up passengers and on the way to their destination gets them to stop at a jewelry store, souvenir shop or travel agency.

A familiar experience, considered no more than an irritation or a waste of time by some.

But is it more serious than this?

PHUKET: For an elderly American woman who arrived alone on Phuket last January, the experience was a terrifying one, one that caused her to run out of the cab screaming for help once she reached her hotel. Prompted by the frightening experience, the woman called the US Embassy in Bangkok and reported that she had been kidnapped, according to an email sent to the Phuket Gazette.

“She was emotional and almost frantic,” the email said.

The woman said that she was picked up at the airport and had asked to be taken to the five-star resort where she had a reservation.

Instead, she was delivered to a travel agency, where she said she was “interrogated” about her personal information, such as where she came from and how long she planned to stay in Phuket. The agent told her that if she booked any trips, they had to be made through his agency.

The woman felt frightened and intimidated and pleaded to be taken to her hotel. She finally arrived there over an hour later.

When does a side-trip become an abduction? Two top legal officers in Phuket disagree on the answer.

Phuket Public Prosecutor Tawan Sukyiran did not mince his words.

“This is a case of abduction according to the law,” he said.

“The taxi driver, by not taking her directly to her hotel, which she had asked to go to, deprived her of her freedom,” he said.

“The length of time doesn’t matter. Even if it was just for five minutes, it can still be considered an abduction.

“She did not get out of the car willingly at the tour agency. She was forced to get out and she did so because she thought her safety was in jeopardy,” Mr Tawan said.

Yotsavee Pornperaparn, Phuket Tourist Police Superintendent, did not share Mr Tawan’s view.

“It is not an abduction,” he said, “because in the end, she was taken to her hotel.

“He did not kidnap her or take her to an unknown place,” he said.

Col Yotsavee argued that it is impossible to know what the driver and the woman discussed.

“She might have said something and the cab driver might have misunderstood her and thought she wanted to visit a tour agency,” he said.

“I don’t think this is a case of abduction, but it might be a case of cheating,” he continued.

“It would be cheating if he took her to the agency in order to try to get a commission from the company,” he explained.

Col Yotsavee said that this case was the first of its kind.

“A case like this has never been reported before… though taxi drivers do cheat and take advantage of tourists all the time. We have tried to fix the problem, but it’s out of our control,” he said.

He called on the public to report similar cases to 076-223 891 or 1155, with information about the license plate number, the color of the car and the driver’s name.

Some taxi companies have policies in place to protect tourists. Prasat Pechwang, a taxi driver with Phuket Taxi Meter Service Co Ltd at the airport said.

“If the taxi company finds out that a driver tried to cheat, drive out of the way or force a tourist to stop at another place on the way to the hotel, he will be barred from driving his car for the company for three days,” Mr Prasat said.

“The first time the driver will be warned. If it happens again, he might be fired,” he said.

How many tourists, backpackers to luxury guests, are taken on such an unwelcome first “tour” of Phuket is uncertain. However, one thing is sure – guests such as the elderly American woman are unlikely to be recommending Phuket to friends.

— Orawin Narabal

Phuket News
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