On the trail with Bangkok's No 1 ladies' detective agency
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On the trail with Bangkok's No 1 ladies' detective agency

Catching out cheating husbands and two-timing mistresses is all in a day's work for one pioneering private eye

SPECIAL REPORT
On the trail with Bangkok's No 1 ladies' detective agency

When Amnuaiporn “Kung” Maneewan first graduated in 1995, her only ambition was to find a well-paid job. The answer to her dreams was just around the corner, and she managed to land a position as an accountant at the IBS law firm, near her home in the Ram Intra area of Bangkok.

But her days at work passed tediously. She came into the office every morning, sat at her desk all day long and went home at 5pm.

Her life continued in the same old routine for several months until the day a desperate housewife turned up in front of her desk.

She was the only female member of staff in the office at the time and the woman approached her directly. She had one request: “Can you help find my husband?”

Kung explained she wasn’t a detective for the firm, which specialises in family law, but offered to put her in touch with a colleague. But the housewife insisted she wanted a woman to work the case. And not just any woman. She wanted Kung.

“She asked me to help her as a friend and for the sake of humanity. I just couldn’t say no to her, so I agreed to do it,” she recalled.

The distressed woman’s story had struck a chord with Kung, and all she knew was that she had to take action. She put on a long jacket, hat and sunglasses — in a partial attempt at a disguise — grabbed her old-fashioned video camera and jumped in her car.

DANGEROUS LIAISONS

It didn’t take long for Kung to get on the trail of the cheating husband. Shortly after she began tailing his vehicle, he drove straight into a love motel.

She waited outside for a while, giving him time to get into a compromising position, before heading in to capture the moment on video.

“When I was about to get to the door, my heart was racing so fast, I couldn’t catch my breath,” Kung said. “I wasn’t sure whether I should kick the door open or get the key from the staff. I was so confused and decided to knock.”

The door opened slowly, with the safety chain pulled across. When the cheating husband saw her, he tried to slam the door closed, but Kung pushed back. She grabbed a piece of wood lying nearby and wedged it into the gap of the door, then kicked the door open.

“I don’t know what got in to me. All I was thinking was that I wanted to help my friend. I recorded everything I saw and then tried to run,” Kung explained.

But the mistress was not about to let her get away so easily. She pulled Kung’s hair and slapped her in the face. Kung punched the woman back and ran out of the room.

“I could feel the adrenalin pumping all through my body,” she said. “My face hurt, but it felt so good.” That was the moment when Kung knew she was destined to be a detective.

DITCH THE NINE-TO-FIVE

Kung went back to work filled with fresh ambition. She knew that a desk job was not for her, but was still officially working in the same accounting position.

With a degree in accounting, switching careers would be a struggle, so she carried on with her job as normal.

Given the firm’s reputation for dealing with thorny family and business disputes, her male colleagues spent much of their time carrying out surveillance and private detective work on behalf of clients.

Gradually, she began volunteering to help with their investigative work, using her feminine charms to get close to some targets in a way that her male colleagues could not.

Her first assignment was to find a man wanted for arrest for defrauding a company of 50 million baht.

“I had to pretend to apply for a position at the suspect’s company in order to verify it was really him,” Kung said. “I was so excited and nervous. I couldn’t even control my voice so I sounded very shaky.”

Somehow she got away with it. The man turned out to be the guy their client was looking for, and Kung was thrilled that the case was successful.

She kept offering to help out with investigations when she could, and phone calls started coming in, requesting Kung’s services as a private detective.

“They all said they had found out by word of mouth that I was the detective to come to see regarding family problems,” she said.

After almost a year of working at the firm, she was promoted to be the company’s first female detective.

SPY MOVIE SKILLS

The firm’s reputation has gone from strength to strength since then, while Kung’s work has attracted media attention inside and outside the country. She started with only a handful of clients who wanted help tracking down their husbands’ mistresses. She then decided to go back to university, and has since gained a bachelor’s degree in law.

Kung is now the head of the team investigating family affairs, fraud and copyright violation for the law firm. She also works as a legal consultant for many cases and holds the position of general manager.

With no formal training as a private detective, Kung picked up her skills from watching James Bond films and similar spy movies.

In 1998, a former UK marine made contact with Kung, inviting her to become a distributor of surveillance gadgets in Thailand, and offering her some proper training as part of the deal.

“At that time, spy gadgets were new to our country. I was concerned they might be illegal, so I turned down the business deal, but they still wanted to give me the free training anyway,” she said.

The two-week intensive training programme started with theory on how to follow people, read body language, use disguises and what to do during crisis moments. Kung was then taken out into the field, where she had to follow the trainer as if he were her target.

She now holds her own informal training workshops for others, since she benefited so much from getting her knowledge for free. “I sometimes hold fun workshops for children and for those who are interested. Our work is secretive, but the knowledge is not,” she said.

To this day, the only thing Kung regrets is saying no to becoming a gadget dealer, since the products are now selling widely at many shops and online.

PRETTY LITTLE LIAR

Kung said that lying is now a way of life for her. In any given week, she changes her name frequently and dresses up in many different disguises.

“Sometimes I have to be a som tam seller, sometimes I have to be a street sweeper, or sometimes I have to dress up as a high class lady. It all depends on the circumstances,” she said.

Kung used to be the only female detective at her law firm, but her department has now expanded to cope with its growing workload, though she doesn’t want to disclose how many people she now has working with her. She does confirm that one detective never works alone when they go out on a job, taking at least one other colleague for support.

Tracking down an adulterous lover or untrustworthy business partner is not cheap. Kung charges 5,000 to 6,000 baht a day for her services, or 30,000 to 40,000 baht a week if the case is more complicated. Some cases take more than a week, but others can be wrapped up in 24 hours.

When customers come in for a consultation, Kung sets out her ground rules before accepting a job. “I usually ask what they would do with the evidence if they found out their lover was having an affair,” Kung explained.

If they want to use it in court to divorce their spouse, then Kung accepts the job. But if the person wants to use the information to defame the other person, Kung turns them down, since she refuses to deal with unethical work.

When Kung first became a private detective, most of her clients were housewives who feared losing their husbands. But things are changing.

GOING AFTER ‘GIKS’

Kung said that large numbers of male clients now ask for her services. However, they rarely ask her to follow their wives.

“I have many male clients who want me to investigate whether their mistresses are having an affair with anyone else. Turns out that many of them are,” she said.

Many of these men are rich and send money to their mistresses on a monthly basis. They also buy houses and cars for their “giks”, who are usually young, attractive women.

After working on several cases, clients started recommending her to others. Now she is known as the gik slayer that everyone can trust.

Today, the law firm earns 80% of its income from Kung’s department.

Kung follows many people as part of her work, but she never expected to be on the receiving end of another investigator.

A rich Chinese businessman had asked her to investigate a vehicle belonging to his transport company. Kung accepted the job and arranged for herself and a colleague to meet the man at a restaurant to discuss details of the case. As they were eating, Kung’s detective instinct told her she was being watched.

They finished lunch and Kung offered the businessman a lift in her car. Her client sat in the passenger’s seat, while her colleague sat in the back. She kept checking her mirror and realised a car had followed her from the restaurant. “Do you know that car?” Kung asked her client. He chuckled and replied: “ ‘Yes, that is jae’s car.’ ” Jae is a term used to refer to an old Chinese woman who nags.

Kung slowed down to let the car pass, but it rammed into her bumper instead. A woman in her fifties got out of the car and stormed over. Kung rolled down her window.

“You’re a fairly good looking woman. It’s a shame you can’t find your own husband,” the businessman’s wife shouted, before hopping back into her car and driving off.

UNSATISFIED CUSTOMERS

The majority of Kung’s clients are happy with her work, and many of them have ended up becoming her friends. They spread the word about her work and many new clients come to her based on recommendations. But there are some cases she has been unable to solve.

In one such case, an Indian family contacted her to find out why their daughter’s husband had divorced her.

“The man explained to me that it is important to know why, because culturally, no one would want to marry an Indian woman who had already been married,” Kung said.

Kung followed the man from his condominium to the skytrain and to work in the Silom area. But she could find nothing suspicious in his daily life.

She found no evidence leading to the clues the family were looking for. She sent daily reports back to the family, telling them the man was simply going to work every day and meeting a male friend in the evenings. The family said they suspected he must be gay. They ordered Kung to check his condominium to prove their theory, but the building had a tight security system. Kung hatched a plan to get in, by going to do some grocery shopping and returning to the residence with her hands full of bags.

She waited for other people to come and open the security door, and pretended to have accidentally left her key in her room. She successfully got to the right floor after hanging about for half an hour and went to knock on the man’s door.

When he opened it, Kung took a quick look around, but saw nothing, so she pretended to have got the wrong room number.

But the family were unhappy with her report and accused Kung of dragging out the case to extort the money from them. She decided the case wasn’t worth her time and effort, refunded the clients and dropped the matter.

PERSONAL SACRIFICE

Kung receives many inquiries from aspiring private detectives who want to work alongside her. She always gives people the opportunity to try out, but few make the grade. “Many people come to me and say they want to be a detective. I accept all of them, but most of them leave after three days of training,” Kung said.

Being a detective is not as easy as it might seem. Age, gender and educational background is irrelevant, she said, but anyone who takes on the job must be extremely brave. Many members of her team are relatives and close friends, since the job is so time consuming.

“You don’t have time for yourself. Sometimes the work requires you to work for 24 hours at a time, and there are no weekends,” she said.

Kung added that she doesn’t accept new staff members with husbands and wives waiting for them at home, because the job leaves no space for personal time. But if a husband and wife team were to apply for jobs together, Kung would be more than happy to accept them both.

TRUST AND UNDERSTANDING

Kung, 48, is living her dream job. Well-dressed, attractive and full of energy, she is single and intends to stay that way.

“I don’t want to end up like one of my cases,” she said. “The only human being that can be trusted is a dead one. I’d rather stay by myself taking care of my family.”

After two decades in the private detective industry, Kung has seen more than her fair share of people fall in and out of love. Her work has led to many divorces, but Kung is heartened when she can help glue a couple back together.

“Nothing makes me happier than guiding two people back to love again,” Kung explained. “I’ve seen many couples who were so much in love before they got married, but things change along the way and it tears them apart.”

She has often talked her clients out of divorcing their spouse. Sometimes people want to get divorced because they are angry and jealous, Kung said, but they forget to think about their future, or those of their children.

“Understanding and communication are the key,” she said. “I think if both parties were willing to open their hearts and talk to each other more often, there wouldn’t be so many unhappy married couples.” n

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