Loan shark on run, suicide pact for debt pair, cat in the bag

Auntie evades the cops

Pathum Thani police are tracking down a mysterious loan shark lender to answer claims she hired a man to beat a vendor who owed her money, leaving him with permanent brain damage.

The woman, aged 65-70, dresses plainly and lugs a large rubbish sack around with her, supposedly containing the cash she lends to traders in local markets, including the market outside the Zeer Rangsit IT centre where the March 12 attack occurred.

Despite her modest appearance, media reports dubbed her the "100-million-baht auntie" and linked her to a gang which employs brutal methods to chase up unpaid debts.

Trader Weerapat Kampiranon, 63, who has run a market stall outside Zeer with his wife Patcharaporn Parakunna selling crab fried rice for the past eight years, complained to Kukot police last week about the assault, which took place as he and his wife were packing up for the day.

The couple later went before the media with celebrity lawyer Ronnarong Kaewpetch, who demanded Pathum Thani police explain why loan sharks were able to ply their trade in the market when the government had told police to drive informal lenders out of business during the Covid-19 virus epidemic.

Weerapat Kampiranon and, inset, the so-called '100-million-baht auntie'.

Mr Weerapat said he was getting on his motorcycle while his wife visited the toilets in the store when the attack occurred. A man wearing a cap and face mask struck him with a solid object four times over the head, leaving him with internal bleeding and temporary loss of functions requiring two months' hospital treatment.

He did not see the man, but Ms Patcharaporn said she heard the sound of her husband being struck and raced out in time to see his attacker, who fled the scene.

"Doctors say I have lost 10 per cent of my brain capacity and the damage is permanent," he said, pointing to a large caved-in area on the side of his head. "I had to re-learn how to walk, and still stammer a bit."

Ms Patcharaporn said the past two months were gruelling. Medical bills for her husband's care came to 100,000 baht, which they raised from relatives. "He was in critical condition for four nights, and I wasn't sure if he'd make it. I was worried about losing the mainstay of my life," she said in tears. As for his rehab, she said it was like bringing up a child. "He had to start again."

Mr Weerapat said "100-million-baht auntie" has many customers in the marketplace outside Zeer. He had borrowed an initial 60,000 baht from her in late 2016 as he wanted to sell Bike for Dad T-shirts and open a new branch of his stall.

She charged monthly interest of 10 per cent. He carried on borrowing and his debt at one point reached 80,000 baht though she agreed to halve the interest two years ago when the economy soured.

He said their problems started in early 2018 when auntie said she wanted to exit the business. She asked him to repay his principal of 60,000 baht. He replied he could not afford the lump sum, and she threatened him, saying she would get someone to assault Mr Weerapat if he did not pay.

"She told everyone in the market she wanted to make an example of me so others would be scared into paying their debts," he said. They did not talk again for the next two years, even though Mr Weerapat said he saw her about and they crossed paths in the car park two days before the attack.

Mr Ronnarong, the lawyer, said Rangsit is well known for its loan shark lenders. "It's a shocking case. They attacked an old man, and it's not far from Bangkok. The police have to show whether they can control illegal lending activity or not.

"Why aren't these underground lenders scared of the law? Do they think they'll be able to clear the matter with the cops?" He had received many complaints about loan sharks, who are wary of leaving a paper trail, which makes prosecution difficult.

Pol Col Ekkniruj Wansiripak, superintendent of Kukot police, which has issued a 10,000 baht reward for information leading to auntie's arrest, said police have been unable to establish her name and know little about her.

She rents a place in Bang Khen for 1,200 baht a month but has not been back in more than a week. She lives modestly, he said, with no fixed abode. No utility bills could be found in her name, and she leaves no paper trail when she lends to customers. She has "many tens" of customers and usually lends no more than 100,000 baht a time.

She normally travels to the market by bus about 5pm, collects her interest, and leaves again about 8pm. "As far as we can tell, she does everything herself," he said, adding she was unlikely to be as wealthy as her nickname suggests nor attached to any gang.

Couple in suicide pact

A couple's decision to take their own lives, supposedly to flee the debt collectors, is puzzling their families, who say they had little warning anything was amiss.

Chon Buri police found the couple, Sompong, or "Piak", aged 70, and Issaree, or "Aom", 49, in a rented room in Bang Pla Soi, Muang district on June 26 after relatives sounded the alert. Their surnames were not disclosed.

Issaree was found on the bed, apparently after a drug overdose, and Sompong's body found hanging in the bathroom. The room showed no sign of struggle, and the pair left a suicide note in rough scrawl. The note, which Sompong wrote, said the couple was deeply in debt and decided they had no option but to take their own lives, as the debt collectors were on their trail and would attack them.

"I have helped repay many hundreds of thousands of baht (to no avail). Aom said we had no other way out. She decided I should follow her (in taking my life) so no one could disparage us," the note said.

"I don't want to go ahead, but Aom said soon it will be daylight and it will be even harder to do it.'' He also asked those who find the note to sell the furniture to help pay the rent.

Sompong called his family home in Nakhon Nayok about 3am that day saying he was about to take his life. They were stunned to get the news and rushed to the rented room in Chon Buri. After finding the pair together, they concluded Sompong was seeing Aom as his mistress, though only Aom's family had any inkling of the arrangement.

Sompong's daughter, Wannapa, 37, said her father lived with the family in Nakhon Nayok and she was unaware of any problems. "I don't know Aom, and my father never mentioned he was in debt." Occasionally he would travel to the provinces, but her father said he was going on fishing trips with his mates.

He did not gamble or drink, and the family is wondering if Sompong met Aom when she was already in debt and tried to help her.

Aom's son, "A", 32, who travelled from Chiang Rai to identify the body, said he knew his mum was seeing Sompong. His father died when he was three or four, and Aom moved to Chon Buri to find work. The room has a picture of three children on the wall, and was presumably Aom's own.

"I go to see Mum when I am free. I didn't know much about their relationship and am not sure of the cause, though Mum said once she was deeply in debt," he said. Police are investigating.

Cat bewitches plucky labourer

Netizens are praising the actions of a Lao labourer who rescued a cat after it was hit by a car and despite his meagre earnings offered to pay its medical expenses himself.

The Lao labourer with the injured cat he rescued.

Writing on social media, Thatborworn "Terl" Lertpornsuksawat shared the tale of the labourer, Sommit "Bunthiang" Duangprajan, or Bun for short, who turned up at a city veterinary clinic last week having just seen a cat getting hit on the road.

Bunthiang was on his bicycle but dumped it by the road as he placed the injured cat in a sack and hurriedly took a taxi to the nearest vet.

"He knocked on the window and asked if the vet had a charitable foundation which could help," recalled Terl, who had brought in his pet dog to have a wound cleaned.

"He opened the sack and inside was the cat, which was bleeding heavily," he said. The vet was initially reluctant to accept the animal as he could see Bunthiang was a labourer and may not be able to afford the bill, which he estimated at 8,000 baht.

"He was worried Bunthiang would abandon the cat. However, he changed his mind and agreed to care for the animal but asked for a 6,000 baht deposit. Bun started begging, and said he had just 1,000 baht with him. He offered to withdraw the rest as an advance against his wages," Terl said.

Pet owners in the waiting room listening in to this tale started to feel sorry for Bun, so offered to chip in for the bill. "People called out, offering to pay 3,000 baht here, a thousand there. We combined our resources and managed to raise 9,000 baht. However, we suggested he take the cat to Chulalongkorn Animal Hospital, as they were likely to have a charity which could help," he said.

The vet gave the cat some basic care, called a Grab taxi, and sent the pair to Chula. "The vet charged 450 baht and helped us all pay for that bill, and Bun left with the cat," he said. The next day, Terl visited Bun at his worksite. He said the cat was now in the care of the Mahanakorn Animal Hospital in Tha Phra, as Chula would not accept the animal. They had charged an initial 5,000 baht.

Sommit Duangprajan.

"I said if there's anything I can do, get in touch, but Bun said we had done enough, and he would take care of the rest." Terl said Bun made just 300 baht a day as a labourer and he admired his generosity. "A bill that size would take him half a year to pay off. I really admire him, but if anyone wants to help you can call or contact the clinic."

The clinic said netizens had started transferring so much money to help with the cat's medical bill that they had to ask for a break until they had found a third party to handle the sums. However, it said the public could still make donations across the counter. The cat is seriously injured and has a 50-50 chance of survival.

Admiring netizens, meanwhile, joke that Bun fell under the cat's bewitching ways from the start. "He took one look into its eyes and was lost to its charms. He even abandoned his bike," one said.