Officials squirm amid Chuvit's Triad exposé
Former massage mogul's revelations have snowballed
What began in late October as a raid on a Bangkok night entertainment venue operating beyond the legal hours has now grown into one of the country's biggest corruption scandals.
At the centre is Chinese businessman and suspected crime boss Chaiyanat "Tuhao" Kornchayanant who is allegedly a key figure in a Chinese criminal syndicate in Thailand.
Mr Chaiyanat is charged with being involved in supplying or authorising the sale of narcotics, operating the pub without permission and providing assistance to drug-related offenders. He is also accused of associating with a transnational crime network and money laundering.
As the investigation unfolds, the case seems to have it all: narcotics, money-laundering, association with a transnational crime network, unscrupulous officials and politicians, negligence and corruption.
The case has raised damning questions over how foreign criminals can operate in the country and for how long to accumulate assets worth billions of baht without catching attention from the authorities.
However, the spotlight is also trained on another man -- Chuvit Kamolvisit, former massage parlour kingpin and politician who has supplied information to expose "grey businesses" and underground activities.
In an interview with The Bangkok Post, Mr Chuvit spoke in detail about Chinese Triad mafia in Thailand, their connections and corruption among the powers.
It began when Beijing launched a crackdown on criminal activities such as the narcotics trade and online gambling.
Many of these criminals looked to operate in countries with a weak bureaucratic system and Thailand was on their radar.
They built connections with senior police and influential figures, which enabled them to venture into grey businesses or outright illegal activities centred on entertainment venues and gambling dens.
Changes to the local scene are hard to miss, according to Mr Chuvit. Bangkok's Huai Kwang and Ratchadaphisek areas are full of Chinese-run establishments, and similar sights can be found in towns in neighbouring countries.
However, the little China town in Huai Kwang did not cause any troubles until a criminal network was formed.
The raid on Jinling pub in Bangkok's Yannawa on Oct 26 lifted the lid on Chinese gangsters.
"After three weeks in office, the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) wanted to take down illegal night venues. What he found was drugs, a very special kind of drugs. Jinling pub was one of many joints catering to Chinese people only, with cubicles reserved for drug-taking," Mr Chuvit said.
When setting up this kind of business, the gangsters, however, did not deal directly with police, but through a middleman who, according to him, is a well-known politician.
Unaware that Jinling pub was part of a grey business, the MPB made a number of blunders including releasing those who tested negative but were part of the syndicate, he said.
The Jinling pub also put the heat on immigration police who faced criticism over how these criminals slipped through, he said.
"And we've found they disguised themselves as students or volunteers of foundations operating as fronts. During 2020–2021, almost 10,000 Chinese people entered the country with backing from foundations especially in the Northeast," he said.
Mr Chuvit said Tuhao, a Chinese man with Thai citizenship, is known to have political connections and he made a donation of 3 million baht to the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.
At one time he was brought to meet a senior politician with a gift and prepared to give the person 100 million baht, he said. However, the money was said to be left with the middleman, according to Mr Chuvit.
"All of these tell us that these grey businesses have help from government officials," he said.
On money laundering, he said Tuhao, who was listed as the pub owner, cannot do it alone as he pointed to the money trail and value of impounded assets worth billions of baht.
He also suspects that crooked politicians and officials might have their ill-gotten assets laundered by Tuhao's network.
Tuhao's business prospered in just 10 years because of the business model he chose and police connections he had, Mr Chuvit said, adding that the impounded assets were half of what he has amassed.
The business model was bringing Chinese tourists to Thailand and having them spend within the loop of his businesses -- accommodation, transport services and shopping venues.
He allegedly rented an entire temple where he ran a fake amulet scam drawing in Chinese tourists.
There are others like Tuhao's network, said Mr Chuvit. One is allegedly run by a person named "Somsak Ma" who fled overseas.
This individual reportedly targets Chinese investors interested in buying property in Thailand using Thai nominees.
Somsak Ma allegedly has good connections with the Anti-money Laundering Office and his scam works by using Thai nominees who are blacklisted by Amlo.
Afraid of legal consequences, Chinese investors sell their property at low prices to the network which has a law firm as a front.
"When I spoke about the coming together of these transnational networks, nobody believed me. Police didn't believe me, so I went to the Office of Attorney General and the case is being handled by the OAG," he said.
The prosecution stepped in on the basis that the case involves a transnational criminal gang and so is classified as "occurring outside the kingdom", which requires public prosecutors' involvement.
According to Mr Chuvit, Amlo is in hot water and the grey business scandal is believed to be behind the resignation of Pol Maj Gen Piyapan Pingmuang, chairman of Amlo's board.
"I've laid bare the actions of police and government officials. What do I get from exposing all this? Some people warn that I could be in danger. Isn't it weird? We have to be careful when doing it for a good cause. The bad guys can go anywhere," he said.
The whistle-blower admitted he did not think there would be a satisfactory end to the saga because it is about a system of corruption deeply embedded in society.
"It's impossible that corruption is wiped out and corrupt officials are put away. This is a tragedy...Tuhao's tragedy. He is buried along with those who assisted him. And we start looking for Tuhao 2 and Tuhao 3.
"When dealing with this, sometimes I push and sometimes I retreat. I just need one win and I think I'm close to it," said Mr Chuvit, who washed his hands of the massage parlour business to become a politician.