PM calls for expedited probe into “Sandbox” traveller’s death; victim’s timeline released

Photo via PR Phuket

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered authorities to expedite the investigation into the case of the Swiss government official who was found dead, possibly raped and murdered, in a creek in Phuket after entering Thailand under the island’s new “Sandbox” reopening scheme.

Thailand’s national police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk has flown down to Phuket and is now investigating the case along with detectives from the Crime Suppression Division.

57 year old Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf had entered Thailand on July 13 under the “Phuket Sandbox” reopening scheme and travelled alone. Media in Thailand says she is the assistant protocol chief of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland while Swiss media reported her as a member of the country’s diplomatic service.

She was found in a creek near the Ao Yon waterfall just an 18 minute walk from her hotel. Her body was lying face down and she was wearing only a T-shirt and jacket. A black sheet covered her body. Her jean shorts, underwear and shoes were found nearby.

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Officers suspect the woman was raped and murdered, but there were no visible injuries on the body and police are still waiting for preliminary results from an autopsy. Phuket regional police commander told local MCOT television said it appeared the woman had died several days ago (some reports estimated up to 3 days).

“From what we saw at the scene, the body was covered with a black sheet, which suggests it was done by someone and she did not die of natural causes.”

PM calls for safety for “Sandbox” tourists

The case comes a month after Phuket reopened to travellers from overseas, who are vaccinated against Covid-19, under the “Sandbox” model. The reopening scheme, which was launched on July 1, has been seen as a lifeline to the island’s tourism-dependent economy and serves as a pilot program for the anticipated reopenings of other tourist destinations after more than a year halt on international tourism.

Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri says the PM has ordered a swift investigation into the case and to make sure the tourists under the “Sandbox” program are safe. More than 16,000 people have entered the island province under the scheme since July 1, around 50% of them actually tourists coming for holidays.

“The prime minister has ordered agencies to investigate this case as fast as they can and urged government authorities to ensure the safety of tourists under the tourism sandbox program.”

Along with ordering officers to quickly identify the suspect and make an arrest, the PM called on government agencies to tighten safety and public health measures to support tourists in Phuket, according to the spokesperson.

“Lastly, the prime minister asked all Thais to help promote a positive image of the country to attract foreign tourists who will help stimulate the local economy.”

Officers report the victim’s timeline

Nicole arrived in Thailand on Singapore Airlines flight SQ726 at 10:34am on July 13. She was travelling alone. Her tourist visa was set to expire on August 26. From July 13 to 27, she stayed at the Dusit Laguna Hotel in tambon Choeng Talay of Thalang district in a room she reserved under the “Sandbox” scheme. Officers say she practised yoga every morning with hotel staff.

When she checked out of the hotel, she was picked up by a Phuket-registered taxi she booked through the website 12GO and went to Ao Nang of Muang district in Krabi. Reports say she passed the Phuket’s Tha hat Chai checkpoint at the northern end of the island at 11:05am on July 27 and then checked in at Vacation Village Phra Nang Inn in Ao Nang at 1:36pm.

On July 30, she went was picked by a van service arranged by the hotel to visit downtown Krabi that afternoon. The next day, she checked out of the hotel and travelled back to Phuket by taxi. She then checked in to the Mooring Resort Hotel in tambon Wichit of Muang district. Officers say that stayed at the hotel and relaxed on its beach. She was last seen on Tuesday, August 3.

Surveillance camera footage shows her walking out of the hotel at around 11:25am to Ao Yon beach. About 20 minutes later she walked to Ao Yon-Khao Khat Road toward the Ao Yon waterfall, which was about 1.4 kilometres away. She was found dead yesterday afternoon around 1.30pm.

Public officials express sympathy, call for action

At the “Sandbox” operations centre today, the honorary consul of Switzerland in Phuket, Andrea Kotas Tammathin, expressed her sympathy and said she wants police to arrest the culprit as soon as possible.

“I feel very bad and great sympathy for the woman who arrived as a tourist and died because of the actions of a bad person. I want police to arrest the culprit as soon as possible”

Phuket governor Narong Woonciew pledged to do “absolutely everything we can to investigate what has happened and bring justice to Ms Nicole.”

“Please be assured of our fullest efforts to follow up very closely with this case.”

President of Phuket Tourist Association, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, assured the public that officers involved in the investigation will do their best to find the suspect and “deliver the maximum punishment.”

“Secondly, on behalf of all tourism people in Phuket, we will not tolerate any incidents like this. We would like to make sure that we put our efforts together to make sure that tourists who come to visit Phuket will be safe and sound and have very good memories to take back home.”

SOURCES: AP | Nation Thailand | Bangkok Post | Phuket News

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Tanutam Thawan

Local Thai journalist speaking fluent Thai and English. Tanutam studied in Khon Kaen before attending Bangkok’s Chulalongkhorn University.

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