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Special Report: Is my neighbor a contract killer?

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Soldiers and other security personnel arriving on the island to enjoy R&R leave or even to retire in the sun is nothing new to Phuket, but the arrest of ex-US soldier Joseph “Rambo” Hunter this past week (story here) has raised the disconcerting question: Do you know who your neighbors really are?

Hunter lived the quiet life here. He did not venture out often, instead choosing to stay at his rented villa beside the Loch Palm Golf Course with the curtains closed.

Staff at the Garden Villas Baan Suan Loch Palm housing estate said his only request was that the maid clean his villa once a week – not twice a week, as other tenants preferred – and only while he kept a close eye on the cleaner.

Other than that, he was an ideal tenant.

“He always paid the rent – about 70,000 baht per month – on time. He never made loud noise or disturbed his neighbors. He always behaved and stayed quiet,” an estate staff member told the Phuket Gazette.

“He rented the villa in April and lived alone most of the time. Sometimes a Filipina visited him. She is about 20 years old and stayed five to six days at a time, then went away for two weeks and came back again. It always happened this way,” another estate employee explained.

Hunter was not a member at the neighboring golf club, nor did he use the clubhouse facilities.

The Gazette received no reports of him being involved in any altercations in bars, and despite his long career as a marksman, he was not known at any of the popular shooting ranges, either by the name Hunter or by his known aliases Frank Robinson or Jim Riker.

He simply kept a low profile, perhaps not surprising given the circumstances.

A security guard at the gate to the housing estate even described Hunter as an amiable fellow.

“We never spoke in depth about anything. We only smiled at each other. Sometimes I said ‘Sawasdee krab’ and he said ‘Hi’ back, but we never had a conversation,” he explained.

“Most of the time he rode out on one of his two big bikes and returned about 30 minutes later carrying 7-Eleven bags,” the guard added.

What is known about Hunter’s movements in Phuket is that he frequently visited “friends” at another house in the estate.

“Often, during the day, he took a short walk to his friends’ house, where about five people are staying. I always saw him walk to their house, but I never saw them visit him,” another guard said.

The “friends” were questioned by police, but later released after investigating officers were confident the five had no idea of Hunter’s chosen profession as a drug smuggler and leader of an international team of assassins.

“We always check prospective tenants’ backgrounds carefully before letting them rent a house,” said one of the management team at the estate.

“We ask to see their passport and visa, and check with immigration to make sure they are legal and not wanted for any crimes. Now, we have to be even more careful,” he said.

HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

Whether a background check on the likes of Hunter would reveal anything untoward is unlikely.

Like many other expats in Phuket, Hunter was, on paper, no more alarming than any other retired servicemen who have chosen Thailand as their new home.

Hunter joined the US Army in 1983. He led air assault and airborne infantry squads, served as a sniper instructor and trained soldiers in marksmanship and tactics as a senior drill sergeant before he left the service in 2004.

Despite more than two decades as a soldier, however, the highest rank he attained was sergeant first class.

Leaving the soldier’s life behind likely brought its own problems. Hunter was arrested late on May 17, 2008 in his hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky, after police were called about a disturbance.

Police say that when they arrived, Hunter began yelling at them.

He was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Hunter was booked in the county detention center on May 18 and posted a US$1,000 bond, reported local news syndicate 14 WFIE.

But the charges he now faces allege that he soon embarked on a long career as a provider of “security personnel” for drug cartels, picking up “bonus work” as a contract killer on the side.

More disturbingly for most Phuket residents, though, was that Hunter revealed to undercover DEA agents that he had arranged for two female real estate agents to be killed.

Where and when those murders took place have not been disclosed by the authorities.

The question whether Hunter and his elite hit squad ever met in Phuket also remains unanswered, though General Preawphan Damapong, the assistant police commissioner in charge of national drug suppression, who led the officers in arresting Hunter, confirmed that five other suspects in the case were being detained in Thailand.

Again, no details have been released regarding those arrests.

COSTA DEL CRIME

The tendency of international criminals to call Phuket home seems to be growing.

Dave Allen, head of the fugitives unit at the UK’s Serious Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA), says Thailand is high on the list as a destination of choice among international criminals.

“The attraction for Spain [among British criminals] is still there, as there is a huge expat British population,” he told The Guardian earlier this year.

But some are now looking further afield: “The places we’re seeing them go now are Thailand, certainly, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates,” Mr Allen said.

Meanwhile, famed ex-con-cum-criminal lawyer Jason Coghlan, who has long served international fugitives living on Spain’s Costa del Sol, is now setting up an office in Bangkok.

Mr Coghlan, a former armed robber from Manchester who served time at the British detention facility Strangeways, runs the law firm JaCogLaw in Marbella.

He says that Spain is now off the list as the international fugitives’ ultimate getaway.

“If you’re a villain on the run in Spain, you’re just in a queue waiting to get nicked. What a lot of them don’t realize is that the Spanish police can even trace where your emails are coming from.

“Being on the run is no life – and it’s no life for the family of someone on the run either. Some of them think that with the passage of time their sentences will be reduced. But the sentences don’t go away,” he said.

While such advice may encourage more criminals to flee to Asia, the Thai authorities are doing their best to deter undesirables from reaching these shores.

ACT OF JUSTICE

The arrest of Hunter and the five other suspects in Phuket came just one day after the Prevention and Suppression of Transnational Organized Crime Act was enacted in Thailand.

“The act came into effect very recently – on September 24 – and with this act, officers tackling transnational crime cases now have the right to conduct searches without having to wait for a court to issue a search warrant,” said Deputy Commissioner General Chongrak Chutanon.

However, law-enforcement officers are still required to present their ID and documentation showing that they have reason to suspect the individual before carrying out the search.

“This new Act will make our work easier and life for international criminals and fugitives more difficult, as they will have less time to flee the long arm of the law,” Lt Gen Chongrak said.

— Orawin Narabal

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

Business

Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub

Maya Taylor

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Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket - PHOTO: www.makemytrip.com

Industry officials are seeking the go-ahead for a project to transform over 140 rai of government land in Phuket into a world-leading medical hub. The project is budgeted at 3 – 4 billion baht, depending on which report you read. Kitkong Tantijaraswarodom, from the Federation of Thai Industries, believes the development of a medical and wellness hub in the sub-district of Mai Khao, north Phuket, will help revive the southern island’s battered economy. Phuket has become increasingly reliant on a steady flow of tourists over the past 2 decades.

The southern division of the FTI covers Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Patthalung, Surat Thani, Ranong, Satun, Chumphon, and Songkhla.

“The FTI will ask the government to green-light the project during the scheduled mobile cabinet meeting on the island on November 3.”

Kitkong says businesspeople in the south are anxious for the government to approve the project, which will provide both locals and foreign medical tourists with state-of-the-art medical care. The facility is expected to include long-term care, hospice and rehabilitation services, in addition to a dental hospital, sports therapy centre, and a medical training school for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical laboratory scientists.

The chair of the FTI’s southern chapter is also calling on officials to provide small and medium-sized businesses with additional support, in the form of access to loans, in order to deal with cash shortages.

“In the short term, the FTI wants the government to help SMEs, especially those in the tourism sector.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Phuket

Man’s body discovered hanged in a Phuket Town apartment

The Thaiger

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Man’s body discovered hanged in a Phuket Town apartment | The Thaiger

A man has been found hanged in Phuket Town apartment yesterday. Police are treating the cases as a suicide at the moment.

The man was found hanged from the apartment’s ceiling fan. His lifeless body was discovered around 11am after neighbours complained to the manager about the smell coming from the man’s room.

Police and the local Kusoldharm Foundation rescue workers attended the scene. Police later confirmed the incident happened in room on the 3rd floor of an apartment lock in Soi Phoonphol Soi 1, Talat Nuea in Phuket Town. Police said the man was 35-45 years of age and had a 29 year old girlfriend from Chumphon. He was paying 1,000 baht a month and had been renting the room for 2 months. Police estimate that the man had been dead for at least 3 days.

Police told media that the man had used, what appeared to be a dress, tied around his neck and then to the room’s roof fan. The apartment manager told police that he had been late on on his recent rent, speculating that the man may have been suffering financial hardship.

The man’s identity has not been released at this stage.

His body was taken to Vachira Hospital for an autopsy.

If you or anyone you know is in emotional distress, please contact the Samaritans of Thailand 24-hour hotline: 02 713 6791 (English), 02 713 6793 (Thai) or the Thai Mental Health Hotline at 1323 (Thai).

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Tourism

Bangkok Airways add 3 new local routes to their schedule

The Thaiger

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Bangkok Airways add 3 new local routes to their schedule | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Bangkok Airways' ATR72, servicing the re-introduced routes

Some domestic routes are being added as local routes continue to expand. This time Bangkok Airways has announced it’s resuming its Samui-Phuket, Phuket-Hat Yai and Phuket-Pattaya/Rayong (U-Tapao) flights.

The first additions to the schedule will be the Phuket-Samui flights resuming this Sunday, October 25, and the Phuket-Pattaya flights start again next Tuesday, October 27. The Phuket-Samui flights will be operating on Sundays and Wednesdays only on the airlines’ ATR72 turbo prop regional planes, same as before.

A casual search on the Bangkok Airways website, for a return flight from Phuket to Samui on November 1, then back to Phuket on November 8 indicates the cheapest fare (promo) is 2,430 baht. Coming back, the cheapest fare we found, again labelled ‘promo’, was 2,630 baht. Bangkok Airways operate as a “full service” airline and don’t compete with the country’s discount airlines. But they operate these three routes exclusively – like it or leave it.

Bangkok Airways say that the flights will be operated “with the highest preventive measures and standards”. Around the country the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand have eased a few of the onboard restrictions, including the start of catering services which were originally banned under the initial flight rules when domestic routes started flying again at the start of July.

The daily direct services between Phuket and Hat Yai are also being operated on the ATR72 aircraft. The flight to Ha Yai leaves Phuket at 8.40am and arrives at Hat Yai at 9:.45am. The return flights leave Hat Yai back to Phuket at 10.25am each day. The route was very popular for the airline before the ‘disruption’ when airlines had their fleets grounded in April.

The service between Phuket and U-Tapao, linking the party city with the party island, will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, again with the ATR72. Phuket to U-Tapao will leave at 12.10pm and then from U-Tapao to Phuket at 4pm on the three days. U-Tapao is about a 50 minute drive from Pattaya and the airport also serves the greater Rayong area.

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