“Thailand has traditionally been one of the top source countries for extradition of criminals to the U.S.,” said one March 2009 cable from the American Embassy in Bangkok obtained by WikiLeaks. The cable lists the variety of fugitives seized in Thailand over the years: child molesters, narcotics traffickers, money launderers and cybercriminals, among others.
The cable counts 135 defendants extradited from Thailand to the United States in the past three decades and dozens more people “directly deported.”
But a scan of recent headlines in Thailand suggests that fugitives from American justice are but a footnote on a long list of felons on the loose.
In the past two years, the news media here have reported the arrests in Thailand of Germans wanted for fraud and tax evasion; a man suspected of being a South Korean mafia boss; Czech bank robbers convicted of stealing several million euros (and who fled to Thailand after jumping bail while their case was on appeal); Pakistani passport forgers; a convicted Filipino murderer who was the most wanted man in the Philippines but worked in Bangkok as a jeweler; a French drug trafficker who thought he could elude the police by using his brother’s passport; the leader of Japan’s second-largest organized crime syndicate; an Israeli fugitive convicted of a double murder in Belgium and traveling on a forged Maldives passport; an Indian man wanted for sending a bevy of fraudulent spam; an Australian suspected of killing a family of three; and seemingly countless pedophiles.
Add to the list Viktor Bout, suspected of being an international arms dealer, who was extradited to the United States in November after a protracted legal battle in Thailand.
Many criminals seem to find refuge in Pattaya, the seedy seaside resort southeast of Bangkok known for its vast stretches of go-go bars. A separate American diplomatic cable from 2005 said fugitives from the United States had “taken up residence in Pattaya over the years, along with people who should be getting treatment for mental illness, but are not.”
Thailand’s freewheeling society, its pliant law enforcement and its status as a megamarket for vice at budget prices are powerful draws for criminals from around the globe, said John Burdett, a British author of crime novels set in Thailand that delve into the country’s underworld.
“There are a number of minor reasons and one very major one why the jet-setting underground would find Thailand irresistible,” Mr. Burdett said in an e-mail. “The minor ones would include guns, girls, gambling, ganja and gorgeous beaches, especially for those recently released from confinement.”
But what makes Thailand especially attractive, Mr. Burdett said, “is the international reputation, whether deserved or not, of a compliant and bribable police force.”
Thailand’s leaders have long acknowledged that there are bad apples — some would say whole orchards of them — among the police.
Lt. Gen. Wiboon Bangthamai, the commissioner of the country’s immigration police, said in an interview that officials at remote border posts had been known to suffer inexplicable computer troubles when people with lots of cash sought to cross the Thai border illegally.
“Officers at small border checkpoints would break the computers and let them in,” General Wiboon said.
The American cables point to weak law enforcement, a country preoccupied with political problems and inconvenient geography.
“Thailand’s borders are long and extremely porous and the country is therefore vulnerable to international criminal elements of all kinds,” the 2009 cable said.
Another reason Thailand has struggled to contain its fugitive problem is that stamping out what makes the country attractive for the most wanted might crimp the billion-dollar business of hosting all those tourists without criminal records. Thailand’s anything-goes ethos, most recently spotlighted in the Hollywood film “The Hangover Part II,” is coupled with a deep-seated hospitality that often seems blind to a foreigner’s background and appearance.
But as one Thai government adviser noted, it can be hard to distinguish between the felons and the investment bankers on vacation. (In some cases, presumably, they could be one and the same.)
The Thai immigration department says it is overhauling its computer systems in the next two months, an upgrade that will combine all information about foreigners who enter and exit Thailand. As it stands now, data from the country’s many land crossings are stored separately from information about the arrivals and departures at international airports.
Fugitives “will find it hard to get in,” said Maj. Gen. Manoo Mekmok, the commander of the immigration department’s investigation and interrogation division. “Put simply, many will have to change their destination.”
Yet analysts of Thailand’s immigration system say the changes are unlikely to purge the country of foreign riffraff. What was supposed to be a command center for tracking fugitives at a government building in Bangkok was dark, musty and empty on a recent visit, inactive because of a lack of funds, according to the staff.
And even in highly publicized cases, suspects in Thailand sometimes just disappear.
In May, a man from the United Arab Emirates was charged with trafficking endangered animals; he had been arrested at Bangkok’s main airport with four baby leopards, a bear cub and two tiny monkeys. The case was front-page news in Thailand in part because of the novelty of trying to smuggle such a large menagerie through airport security.
But two weeks later, the police, without providing further details, said the suspect had missed his court date — and fled the country. Thomas Fuller – NY Times
Sure are a lot of dark glasses / baseball cap advance aged foreigners traipsing round Pattaya.
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And at the end, implying that elderly men wearing baseball caps and dark glasses are suspect is really a cheap shot.
There are more Thai criminals in Thailand than foreign ones. That they often go unpunished is apparent, even famous ones can run and hide in plain sight.
Police run gambling dens. Ministers advocate arson in public...
Oh, and who makes the money from all the prostitution, drugs, and gambling??
Much ado about nothing...
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