The Thai wives who never said 'I do'
Foreigners are bribing officials to secure marriage certificates by stealing identities of unwitting women
After tying the knot earlier this year, Somjit and her husband visited the Wang Muang district office in Saraburi to register their marriage only to be told she was already married to a man she had never met.
Ms Somjit, 38, whose surname was not given, was shocked to learn of the prior marriage. She denied having known, let alone met, the Indian man who was supposed to be her husband.
This led the former cleaning lady for a private company to suspect that copies of her two most important documents -- her domicile registration and citizen ID card -- may have ended up in the wrong hands.
She remembers her supervisor at the cleaning department had collected copies of the two documents from her and now believes they were used to fake the marriage with the Indian man.
Ms Somjit filed a complaint with the authorities who revoked the bogus marriage.
Ms Somjit's case highlights a fraudulent practice in which foreigners, mostly from India, seek to obtain a marriage licence so they can stay in the country to run businesses which are not always legal, according to Natthaporn Sitthichai, a detective with the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).
Some bribe district officials, who steal the identities of women in the citizenship database, to produce the marriage licences for them.
Ms Natthaporn said she found a number of women agreed to sign the marriage licences because they and the men were friends. Other women were hired or borrowed money from the men and agreed to the marriage to square their debt.
On May 23, eight Indian nationals were detained for suspected involvement in a scam using the names of Thai women on forged marriage licences to stay in the country longer.
Deputy tourist police chief Surachate Hakparn said the arrests came after police took up complaints lodged by the women, including Ms Somjit, in Saraburi's Wang Muang district who found their names on marriage certificates despite never having been married.
Police identified the suspects as Prabhakar Singh, Ritesh Kumar, Manjeet Mallah, Suraj Prakash Singh, Raju Sharma, Shailesh Kumar Tripathi, Vijendra Nishad and Bhajan Nishad. The first three were charged with overstaying their visas while the five others had their visas revoked, he said.
The arrests were part of the police's "Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner" campaign, aimed at cracking down on foreigners who find illicit ways to stay in the country.
Pol Maj Gen Surachate said the suspects were thought to belong to a gang which makes fake marriage documents with the help of state officials in charge of the citizenship database.
According to the deputy commissioner, ''the names of as many as 300 women in the district might have been used in the bogus marriage scam.''
Pol Maj Gen Surachate said, so far, officials have helped 13 Thai women remove their names from the marriage registry.
Arthit Boonyasopat, director-general of the Department of Provincial Administration, said the department had sacked two Wang Muang assistant district chiefs and an administrative official in 2015 after they were found to have colluded in the scam.
The officials were accused of taking the names of 2,000 women to produce fake marriage licences in exchange for 2,000 baht a name. The case has been sent to the National Anti-Corruption Commission for a criminal investigation.
Ms Natthaporn said many of the Indian men holding false marriage licences lived in commercial areas of Bangkok. Some had started out hawking roasted peanuts and steadily expanded to run clothes or electrical appliance stores.
"They are very good at saving money and micro-lending. They offer loans to Thai vendors. Several of the lenders established themselves as mafia figures engaging in crimes including the drug trade," she said.
Meanwhile, the state officials who conspire with the foreign men in the forged marriage scam are committing a blatant abuse of authority, Ms Natthaporn said.
"They engaged in a "unilateral" process of creating marriage certificates despite the legal requirement that both parties be present at a formal interview before a licence can be issued," said the detective.
Ms Natthaporn added that the officials also did not enter details of bogus marriages into the computer system in order to evade a detection by their superiors. They would only issue paper licences to the foreign men as documentary "proof of marriage".