'Zero-dollar' tour firms acquitted

'Zero-dollar' tour firms acquitted

The Supreme Court has acquitted seven people and six companies of charges relating to "zero-dollar" tours organised allegedly to defraud Chinese visitors.

The Criminal Court read the Supreme Court's ruling on Thursday dismissing charges against seven Thai nationals accused of running the country's biggest zero-dollar tour network.

The charges included running unauthorised tours and laundering money. The court found they were not warranted.

Among the companies acquitted was Fuan Travel, which had been accused of enticing Chinese visitors in 2016 to visit Thailand on the promise of a free-of-charge arrangement whereby, in cooperation with OA Transport and its fleet of 2,500 tour buses, the company would take tourists to allied souvenir shops which would sell overpriced and inauthentic goods.

OA Transport allegedly shared 40% of its income with tour companies and 5% with tour guides. The collaboration was reported to have been responsible for 98 million baht-worth of losses to tourists.

In finding the defendants not guilty, the court said the companies were engaged in a normal practice within the industry in which transport companies hire out their vehicles to business partners for tourism-related activities.

The court said the programme took in jewellery and leather shops, bird's nest sellers and other types of businesses offering products that are in fact popular with Chinese visitors.

It also said that because these shops were operated by many sellers, not just by those within the defendants' alliance, competition was not undermined.

The court also deemed the products were not overpriced or of poor quality. Further, a commission fee going to tour operators was conventional practice, the court said.

Since the tourists were not overcharged, the zero-dollar programme did not cause damage to the tourism industry. Nor were the defendants involved in money laundering.

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