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Tsunami orphanage under investigation

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Tsunami orphanage under investigation | The Thaiger

PHUKET: A special committee set up by the province is investigating allegations of fraud against the former director of a foundation set up in March last year to care for children left orphaned by the tsunami.

The panel was formed about six weeks ago following complaints to Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura. The provincial Ombudsman’s office was ordered to investigate the activities of Narin Dangtakote and his Swedish wife Maria Floren. Their Thai-Sweden Children’s Foundation has actively solicited millions of baht in donations from Swedes, then allegedly used the funds for other purposes.

The orphanage, which received foundation status on March 18, 2005 with initial funding of about 550,000 baht, is located on land donated by Wat Muang Mai in Tambon Mai Khao, Thalang.

News of the alleged fraud has been front-page news in Swedish newspapers including Expressen, which has been actively following the case. Earlier this month, Bangkok-based Expressen reporter Michael Topffer interviewed Phuket Deputy Governor (Palad) Nivit Aroonrat, who chairs the investigation panel.

Mr Topffer told the Gazette that Palad Nivit had confirmed that the foundation was under investigation and that, because of the controversy, Palad Nivit had advised against a visit to the orphanage by Swedish royals HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and HM Queen Silvia during their recent visit to Phuket.

K. Narin and his wife moved to Phuket several years ago and began building a property development aimed at Swedish buyers. When the tsunami struck, work on the development was almost complete. The couple offered temporary housing to Swedish victims of the disaster and were portrayed as heroes by the Swedish press, Expressen reported.

In January 2005, the couple declared their intention to open an orphanage, asking the Swedish public for donations. According to the foundation’s financial report, more than 20 million baht was collected.

Some Swedes who made donations to the orphanage and then visited the home asked Expressen to investigate rumors of financial impropriety and claims that the children at the orphanage were not, in fact, tsunami victims.

However, Yalinee Saisikosol, who has been working as an administrator with the foundation for two months, said that initially the orphanage had many tsunami-affected children, but that the number had dwindled as the economy began to improve and relatives came to claim them.

“We spend about 20,000 baht a week providing three meals a day for students, paying for their school fees, transport and covering expenses of our employees and volunteers. Sometimes there are additional costs, such as when we take the children out for a day at the beach,” she said.

The provincial investigation is focusing on the foundation’s finances. Last week, the committee sent one of its members, the head of the Provincial Public Works Office, to inspect buildings at the site to see if construction costs had been inflated.

Nikorn Torhirunyapreuk, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Defense Office and also a member of the investigation committee, told the Gazette that although the panel is still in the process of gathering information, it intends to try and have the orphanage’s foundation status revoked.

If sufficient evidence can be gathered, any wrongdoer will be prosecuted, he said.

“We know the foundation has only two children there who were affected by the tsunami. Another 10 children were brought in from Isarn, which is different from the stated objectives for setting up the foundation.

“As they have only two children there [full-time], why did they need to buy so many pickup trucks? We are checking on this now,” he said.

“From our initial investigations and two rounds of questioning with K. Narin, we believe there has been some dishonesty. We asked him for information regarding the construction of a sala which should have cost 500,000 baht to build, not two million baht.

“K. Narin told me that it is still unfinished. But if that is the case, why did he pay the contractor in full six months ago? According to government regulations, payment for construction should not have been made until the work was completed.

“We have to investigate this further, however, including questioning the contractor and looking into tax records,” he said.

Central to the investigation are allegations that donations were transferred to six different bank accounts, but the foundation listed only two.

The committee is also inspecting the foundation’s other expenses, including its 1,500-baht-a-day expenditure to provide meals to children.

K. Nikorn said that while the two foundation accounts show about 20 million baht in donations, the actual amount might be much higher.

“It would be good if we could gather together all the receipts issued to donors, so that we can learn how many bank accounts K. Narin used and how much was collected,” he said.

The Swedish media had played a key role in publicizing the story and helping his agency collect evidence, he added.

When the Gazette tried to call K. Narin on June 26, a man identifying himself as K. Narin’s cousin answered the phone, saying that K. Narin had gone abroad “to relax”. The Gazette tried contacting K. Narin by email but, at the time of going to press, had received no reply.

During a visit to the orphanage on June 26 by a Gazette reporter, staff said that K. Narin had resigned as director last April, but had continued to direct the foundation in a caretaker capacity.

Staff said the orphanage currently has 21 children, four or five of whom were affected by the tsunam

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News

30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.

SOURCE: nationthailand.com

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Patong

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms

The Thaiger

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Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | The Thaiger

by Sophie Deviller

Hotels on Thailand’s most popular holiday island are being forced to slash prices, with rooms left vacant and beaches sparse as Thailand’s tourism chiefs struggle with a plunge in Chinese visitors caused by the US trade war and a stronger baht. Phuket was the most visited destination in the country last year, after Bangkok, and a good gauge of the state of its crucial travel industry.

Tourism accounts for 18% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up more than a quarter of total arrivals. But while 2.2 million people from the country visited in 2018, according to official figures, the numbers for January-September were down almost 20% year on year.

Claude de Crissey, the French Honorary Consul in Phuket and owner of about 40 rooms in the Patong Beach area, says Chinese tourists are usually present even during the current low season.

“That was not the case this year,” he said, adding he had to lower his prices by as much as 50%.

The problem is not only in Phuket, with hotels also struggling to fill rooms in the seaside resort of Pattaya on the mainland and on Koh Samui.

Trade tensions with the US have already made some Chinese reluctant to take holidays owing to uncertainty back home, while the Thai baht has risen about 10% against the yuan this year.

A boating disaster off Phuket’s coast that killed 47 Chinese holidaymakers in July 2018 also scared some off.

“We are worried,” said an industry insider, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic in a country where tourism provides tens of thousands of jobs. Adding to the headache is the fact that more than 3,000 new hotel rooms are being constructed on the island, raising the question of who will fill them.

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

“In terms of business, it’s not good,” said Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, vice-president of the association of hotels in Thailand and director of Vijitt Resort.

“Because … we have more hotels, more rooms to sell, we have more restaurants, more coffee shops.”

Still, tourism authority chairman Yuthasak Supasorn said he remained “optimistic.”

“We should reach our goal of 39.8 million foreign visitors.”

However, that is only up from 38.2 million in 2018, much less than the jump seen from the previous year’s total of 35.6 million.

Counting on India

Now hoteliers and tour package operators are targeting visitors from elsewhere, particularly India, which experts see as a huge untapped market.

A rapid expansion of the middle class in India, increased direct flights and visa-free travel have prompted Thailand to revise forecasts upwards.

It now expects two million Indian tourists this year, after an increase of nearly 25% on-year in the first seven months. But for now, the lower arrivals is evident on the streets of Phuket.

“I’ve never seen anything as bad as what it is at the moment,” said Paul Scott from Australia, who said he has been coming to Thailand for 15 years.

He mainly blamed the stronger baht for the drop-off but also the fact that Thailand wasn’t the untouched vacation paradise it once was. “Now it’s not so new … and it’s not cheap,” he said.

SOURCE: AFP

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

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Events

The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners

The Thaiger

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The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners | The Thaiger

4,000 runners from Thailand and overseas took part in the 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle Fun Run and Half Marathon 2019 yesterday, starting from the Phuket Gateway.

The event is expected to raise 700,000 baht for the charity, now in its 15th year. The money raised goes towards to The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which is committed to protecting the marine and coastal environment, and ecosystems, for the wellbeing of sea turtles that nest in the Mai Khao beach and the surrounding areas.

The annual race also provides funds for thePhuket Marine Biological Centre’s Injured Turtle Rehabilitation Program and The Third NavalArea Command’s Turtle Hatchery Program.

The race was in its 15th year and runners of all ages and abilities took part in the race. The morning’s racing was divided into five categories – the 21.1km half marathon, 10.5km mini- marathon, 5km fun run and 3k family run and VIP participants for all the races. The route of 21.1 kilometre race took runners northwest along the Haad Sai Kaew beach towards Thao Thepkasattri bridge, past the rural road No. 3006, run along the road – Pi Lai viewpoint area returned back along the T. Baan Tha Nun to the iconic Sarasin bridge before finished the half marathon in the Phuket Gateway.

For Mini Marathon 10.5 km – Over all category, Mr. Chinnawat Changlek clocked 39 minutes and 40 seconds to clinch victory in the male half marathon, winning prize money and a trophy with the signature of Phuket’s Governor. The winner in the female mini marathon was Surakarn Wanna with a time of 47 minutes and 47 seconds.

Winners also received a prize gift voucher as well as a medal. Congratulations to all participants.

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