'Big Joke' faces down critics

'Big Joke' faces down critics

110 IB officers suspected of helping Chinese gain illegal visas have deputy police chief Surachate on their case

Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn
Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn

Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn has vowed to stamp out graft rocking the Immigration Bureau (IB) and bring any corrupt officers to justice.

He was referring to the 110 immigration officers who are suspected of involvement in issuing visas illegally to Chinese investors in so-called "grey businesses".

"Criminal charges will be brought against the officers, including three police generals and other officers of various ranks," he said.

"They will be charged with malfeasance and demanding and taking benefits in return for illegal services. They will be summoned to answer the charges this month," said Pol Gen Surachate, also known as "Big Joke", who is overseeing the investigation.

Of the three generals, two are his former classmates at the Royal Police Cadet Academy, and the other is his senior at the academy, he added.

Popular with outlaws

Pol Gen Surachate told the Bangkok Post that while Thailand is a popular destination for travellers from around the world, the country is also a bolt-hole for transnational criminals, particularly those from China.

He said the trend began when Beijing launched a crackdown on criminal activities, including narcotics and online gambling.

Many of these criminals want to operate in countries with a weak bureaucratic system, and Thailand was on their radar, said Pol Gen Surachate, who formerly served as IB commissioner.

They managed to enter Thailand and operate shady businesses such as opening the Jinling pub, which catered to Chinese tourists, on Charoen Rat Road in Yannawa district, he said.

The pub was raided by police on Oct 26 last year, and drug tests came back positive for 104 patrons, 99 of whom were Chinese nationals.

"The IB is bound by duty to prevent those criminals from slipping through immigration controls.

"Immigration is the country's barrier against criminals. Strict controls keep them at bay.

"But as it happens, some immigration officers are suspected of facilitating their entry into the country," he said.

Posing as students

Pol Gen Surachate said the Chinese criminals enter Thailand using student visas while some apply for volunteer visas to work for foundations in the country.

For visa extensions, they do not report in person, but pay an agent to handle the matter. They offer some immigration officers money under the table to facilitate the procedures or turn a blind eye, he said.

Many submitted documents issued by language schools or volunteer foundations as a ploy to extend their visa, he said.

"They do not actually study at schools or work as volunteers as they claim. Some are 60 years old but can still apply for an extension of their student visas because immigration officers have failed to carry out their duty properly.

"They [immigration officers] are duty-bound to check whether those schools and foundations exist, but they fail to do so," he said.

"Some police inspectors serve as chairs of those illegal foundations set up as a front to aid those Chinese criminals," Pol Gen Surachate said.

He added that the 110 IB officers were alleged to have committed a criminal conspiracy by setting up firms that process visa applications for foreigners, especially Chinese nationals who travel to Thailand with a tourist visa but go on to obtain non-immigrant visas without meeting the necessary business or volunteer criteria.

Pol Gen Surachate said these policemen had forged the signatures of provincial governors and permitted photo identification for visa applicants during the pandemic even though the law required applicants to report in person.

Most such cases have been found in the northern and northeastern regions, Pol Gen Surachate said.

"When I served as the IB chief, thousands of overstayers, many of whom were criminals, were arrested and deported. Right now, they are returning and trying to secure student or volunteer visas for a longer stay of up to one year with the help of corrupt immigration officers," Pol Gen Surachate said.

He said national police chief Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas had instructed him to take tough action against the immigration officers suspected of involvement.

However, Pol Gen Surachate said those officers had filed complaints against him as they claimed that they were treated unfairly and the probe is not in line with the law.

The national police chief has ordered a police inspector-general to look into the matter, he said, adding he is confident the investigation against the 110 officers is above board.

Biometric ID needed

Pol Gen Surachate suggested artificial intelligence and biometric identification systems be fully applied to improve efficiency in immigration controls to handle the surge in tourist arrivals as the country reopens.

Biometric identification systems use individuals' unique intrinsic physical characteristics -- fingerprints or handprints, facial patterns, voices, irises, vein maps, or even brain waves -- to verify their identity.

Using technologies will also help curb corruption, he said, adding there is no need to buy these systems as they are also available for rent.

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