Foreign gangs in government crosshairs

Foreign gangs in government crosshairs

Crackdown nets more than 300 arrests so far

Even elite units such as the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams, seen here during a training exercise, are prepared to take part to combat transnational criminal gangs. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Even elite units such as the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams, seen here during a training exercise, are prepared to take part to combat transnational criminal gangs. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Almost 100,000 foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas have been targeted by authorities who are ramping up efforts to weed out transnational criminal gangs from Bangkok and other major tourist provinces.

Police believe some foreign nationals who have overstayed their visas may be involved in various criminal activities.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has instructed military, police and administrative officers to work with state agencies to intensify efforts to apprehend those linked to transnational criminal networks across the country, particularly criminals who entered the country on tourist visas, according to Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich.

The Royal Thai Police has been told to beef up measures to track down, arrest and prosecute those who either entered the country unlawfully or have overstayed their visas, in violation of the Immigration Act, Lt Gen Kongcheep said.

"Almost 100,000 foreigners were found to have overstayed their visas," he said, adding Gen Prawit had also warned officials against taking advantage of these people.

According to Lt Gen Kongcheep, security officers have toughened campaigns to investigate and arrest transnational criminals after various tip-offs from the public.

Raids have been carried out in the Nana, Phra Khanong, On Nut and Ramkhamhaeng areas of Bangkok as well as border locations and major provinces and cities, such as Chiang Mai, Pattaya of Chon Buri, Songkhla, Phuket and Koh Samui in Surat Thani, the spokesman said.

The operations, he noted, discovered various criminal networks were operating in the country, with many involved in drugs, weapons and human trafficking, prostitution, passport and credit card falsification, online gambling, fake diamond sales and call-centre fraud.

"More than 300 suspects have been arrested so far with a large amount of evidence seized," he said.

''These illicit networks have caused significant damage to the country's economy and reputation,'' he added.

Lt Gen Kongcheep said security officers would move ahead with stringent measures to suppress mafia activity to ensure public safety.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, acting deputy commissioner of the Tourism Police Bureau (TPB), said operations against transnational crimes would continue this week and would target those who had overstayed their visas.

The move, he said, corresponds with policies given by the government and national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda, who want to ensure public safety and boost tourist confidence.

A large number of foreigners were found to have overstayed their visas, particularly some Africans, he said, noting that overstayers often disguised themselves as language teachers, priests or footballers.

Some do not have proper jobs but have between 500,000 baht and one million baht wired into their bank accounts regularly, he said.

They are likely to be involved in so-called romance scams, call-centre frauds, drug trafficking and various kinds of swindles, Pol Maj Gen Surachate noted.

According to Pol Maj Gen Surachate, police and military officers will begin a crackdown Monday in Khon Kaen, followed by raids on Thursday in places where foreign criminals are believed to be active.

One gang at the centre of this sting involves Africans who are part of a call-centre scam that has been tricking people into wiring money to Thailand, where it was later sent out in Bitcoin to other gang members overseas.

Another involves those trading firearms via post services, Pol Maj Gen Surachate said, adding both Thai and foreign nationals were involved in the illicit trade.

More than one billion baht is believed to be linked to these unlawful activities.

"The TPB, the Immigration Bureau and military officers will join hands to search various locations under suspicion to build confidence among tourists," said Pol Maj Gen Surachate.

According to him, some call-centre scammers were found to have used Thailand as their base and 87 arrest warrants have been issued for the suspects, including Thai, Chinese, European and African people.

Stringent efforts will be carried out this week to clamp down on these call centre gangs, he noted.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate said coordinated operations will push out foreign criminals from the country.

The TPB and the Immigration Bureau, he said, will also seek cooperation from apartment and accommodation owners to inform officials about foreigners staying at their places, adding the notification must be made within 24 hours in line with the law.

Accommodation owners would face maximum punishment if they are found to have given shelter to foreign criminals, he said.

Acting Metropolitan Police Bureau (MBP) commissioner Chantape Sesavej said he had instructed officers to locate the places where suspected foreign criminals are hiding and bring them for questioning and document inspection.

Pol Lt Gen Suthipong Wongpin, acting commissioner of the Immigration Bureau, said the recent raids in Phuket had uncovered 95 foreign nationals who had overstayed their visas and a further probe is under way.

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