Cops target Phuket in mafia blitz
Top officer says crooks pose as football players
Foreign criminals operating on the resort island of Phuket -- many of whom are employed as teachers or disguise themselves as football players -- are next on the police "hit list".
Authorities will proceed with their crackdown on foreign offenders to ensure the government's policy to drive economic growth comes to fruition.
Leading the operation will be the newly-established Tourism Police Bureau (TPB) and the Armed Forces Security Centre, according to TPB's acting deputy commissioner Surachet Hakpan.
He said law enforcement officials have gathered intelligence and identified the targets for the blitz which will start this week. It is believed that multiple raids will be carried out across the province.
Electronic card skimmers, romance-fraud scams, private drug parties and illegal firearms possession will be at the forefront of the crackdown, he said, but declined to give further details.
Pol Maj Gen Surachet said there are several criminal gangs from various countries operating in Phuket and while many are known to prey on people from their own countries, some target Thai people.
He said these foreign criminals usually overstay their visas after entering the country, "disguising themselves as language teachers or football players".
"They usually commit crimes against those from the same countries such as demanding extortion money and causing trouble if no payment is made. Some Thai nationals also fall victim," he said.
"In either case we have to act because these foreign outfits are using Thailand as their base of criminal activities."
The planned crackdown in Phuket comes hot on the heels of an Oct 5 operation on Koh Samui in Surat Thani in which TPB officers joined forces with local authorities in raiding eight locations.
A 42-year-old British national who runs an accommodation rental service was arrested after he was found in the possession of marijuana. A number of foreign tourist business operators were also interviewed and asked for their operating licences.
The crackdown is in line with an order by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who early this month emphasised a need to suppress mafia gangs to stop them causing trouble to Thai and foreign tourists across the country.
It came after the TPB was upgraded to better handle crimes and maintain peace and security for tourists as the government has set its sights on boosting the number of tourist arrivals.
Earlier in September, the government announced it aims to achieve 10% growth in tourism income, or roughly 3 trillion baht, next year, by rolling out various tourism promotion packages to attract both Thai and foreign tourists to explore new destinations and promote longer stays in Thailand.
"The government wants to promote tourism and has created the TPB to ensure confidence in the country's safety standards. But as we welcome foreign tourists, we also open our doors to criminals," Pol Maj Gen Surachet said.
Pol Maj Gen Surachet said the TPB is also working to improve the safety of tourists who visit beaches and islands. It plans to purchase 40 speed boats to support its operations along the Andaman coast and the Gulf of Thailand, he added.
The bureau has joined hands with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department in laying safety buoys, he said.
Pol Col Choengron Rimpadee, commander of Immigration Bureau 2, said the bureau will not be left behind in the campaign and has introduced an Advance Passenger Processing System (APPS) to help in screening.
Under the system, airlines will send information about the passengers to the bureau and it takes less than a minute to examine if a passenger is blacklisted or has an Interpol alert, he said.
Those who have outstanding arrest warrants will be detained and deported under the immigration law, he said.
According to Pol Col Choengron, foreign criminals with past records usually use fake passports to avoid detection and it is important for authorities to spot the fakes which can help improve immigration control at crowded airports.
"It's usual for them to use fake IDs and passports whether or not they face arrest warrants. So examining passports can screen out transnational criminal suspects fleeing to Thailand," he said.
The Immigration Bureau has launched a programme in which staff at check-in counters are trained to examine passports, he said, adding that more than 30 airlines have joined.
"They can act as eyes and ears for immigration officials. If they suspect a fake, they can alert authorities at the airport to have it examined," he said.
Meanwhile, Crime Suppression Division (CSD) acting chief Maitree Chimcherd said the CSD is also stepping up efforts to deal with mafia networks and other transnational crimes. He said the CSD units are being asked to compile information about foreign criminal outfits.