PM urged to probe Victoria's Secret case

PM urged to probe Victoria's Secret case

Human trafficking charges against brothel suspects dropped but money laundering still being investigated

Representatives from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission visit a state shelter in Bangkok to speak with girls rescued during the 2018 raid on the Victoria’s Secret Massage parlour. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Representatives from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission visit a state shelter in Bangkok to speak with girls rescued during the 2018 raid on the Victoria’s Secret Massage parlour. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Anti-human trafficking advocates are calling on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to look into a controversial decision to drop human trafficking charges against key suspects in last year's Victoria's Secret brothel crackdown.

The Anti-Human Trafficking Network (ATN), a network consisting of 13 women’s rights and child protection organisations, yesterday submitted a petition to the PM urging him to order an investigation into the legality of the decision made by the director of the Department of Trafficking in Persons Litigation (DTPL).

The prosecution has reversed its decision to have the suspects indicted on human trafficking charges since the lower court previously found the suspects guilty of procuring prostitutes illegally, said Chalirat Thimbut, a coordinator of the ATN, at a press conference called ahead of the petition’s submission.

“However, the fact remains that on Jan 12, 2018, girls aged 18 and below were among the 113 Myanmar, Lao, Chinese and Thai nationals rescued from a massage parlour in the Rama IX area of Bangkok during a crackdown,” Ms Chalirat said.

The investigation into the suspected human trafficking network was broken down into two cases, one for the suspects who worked at the massage parlour and the other for individuals who were believed to actually be the owners of the illegal business, including Kampol Wirathepsuporn and Nipa Thiratrakulwattana, who fled the country after the crackdown, she said.

Former national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung last year admitted that he had borrowed “around 300 million baht” from Kampol, whom he described as a friend.

Despite the prosecution dropping human trafficking charges, it has still upheld charges relating to money-laundering, Ms Chalirat added.

The director of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) had recommended the director of the DTPL to also indict the suspects on human trafficking charges.

Subsequently, the DTPL director ordered a panel to be set up to consider the charges recommended by the DSI. After an investigation, the panel agreed with the DTPL’s recommendation to charge the suspects of human trafficking.

However, after the suspects petitioned against the charges, the DTPL director later reversed the panel’s decision and dropped the human trafficking charges.

That has raised questions over whether the decision was made solely by the DTPL director. The DTPL has insight about human trafficking at Victoria’s Secret because after a previous crackdown on the business, the agency had provided legal assistance to the rescued women and girls.

Ronnasit Proeksayajiva, president of the Ronnasit Foundation and a member of the network, said that prior to the crackdown, the foundation had received a complaint from the parents of a girl forced into prostitution at the brothel, which prompted the foundation to send someone to confirm whether child prostitution was actually taking place.

“The brothel offered services such as sex with virgin girls for which it charged customers as much as 100,000 baht as it was a ‘high demand service’,” Mr Ronnasit said.

A check into the money trail led to a connection between the illegal business and the people believed to be the real owners, who have now managed to escape human trafficking charges, he said.

If the government fails to take proper action against key suspects in this human trafficking case, Thailand will have to pay the price in the next US Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), said Surapong Kongchantuek, a former member of the human rights committee of the Lawyers Council of Thailand.

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