The arrest of a 53-year-old Chinese woman with Thai citizenship and a long history of alleged criminal activities means more to police than just busting a document forgery ring.
Navaporn Phakiatsakul, who was detained on April 8 in Bangkok's Bang Rak district, is the alleged leader of a criminal syndicate involved in fraud, surrogacy and human trafficking, according to national deputy police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Pol Gen Surachate said that from what police have discovered during the investigation, organised crime involving Chinese gangs poses a serious threat and must be dealt with swiftly.
He said police have been looking into this criminal ring for a while, thanks to information supplied by Chinese authorities, but there has not been much progress.
Their break came last month following a kidnapping/ransom case involving Chinese nationals in Chon Buri's Bang Lamung district.
A 33-year-old Chinese businessman, identified as Ma Mingshan, lodged a complaint with local police that his wife and his brother, both Chinese nationals, were abducted shortly after dropping off his three-year-old son at school.
The kidnappers contacted Mr Ma via the WeChat application, demanding that he pay a ransom of 1 million yuan or about 4.7 million baht. The husband paid part of the ransom as police started tracing the kidnappers.
Twenty-four hours later, police tracked down one of the four suspects at Suvarnabhumi airport and learned that the three others had fled to Shanghai in China.
But the investigation did not end there because Pol Gen Surachate ordered police to run background checks on the parties involved.
It turned out that the kidnapped woman had overstayed her visa while her son, whose parents are Chinese nationals, holds Thai nationality. Police dug more and found that the boy was born at a hospital in Suphan Buri's Dan Chang district to a Thai surrogate mother.
A closer look into the surrogate mother led police to Ms Navaporn, who provided shelter to the Thai woman throughout her pregnancy. With earlier information from Chinese authorities, Ms Navaporn became the subject of the widening investigation.
The more police delved into Ms Navaporn, the more irregularities emerged, and she became the suspected mastermind of a criminal ring that runs an illegal surrogacy business and fraudulently obtains identification documents for illegal aliens, said Pol Gen Surachate.
Based on the police investigation, Ms Navaporn would give false information to authorities to help her compatriots, including those involved in grey businesses, obtain non-citizen identification cards, or pink cards, by claiming they were relatives who had moved to her house. The pink cards allow them to stay in Thailand longer than a tourist visa.
In addition, she would also procure other Thai women to offer surrogacy to Chinese couples. With the cooperation of Thai doctors, they carried out illegal surrogacy in Thailand and neighbouring countries. The surrogate mothers would give birth in Thailand so that children would automatically have Thai citizenship and later be adopted by Chinese couples who paid for the service. The Chinese parents would then have a right to apply for a long-term visa. Police found that 26 women in the building claimed to be Ms Navaporn's relatives, as recorded at Bang Rak District Office.
According to Pol Gen Surachate, her illegal activities are believed to go as far back as the early 1990s after she obtained Thai citizenship in 1992 through marriage to a Thai man.
Ms Navaporn's motive behind marrying a Thai man was to get Thai nationality and the right to reside in the kingdom, he said. After that, she remarried and had three children whom she used as a front for her illegal and shady activities.
All the children have Thai citizenship because of their mother.
"When the children reached the legal age, they were brought into it. Her children hold all the assets, which are worth billions of baht. She must have planned this from the start," he said.
The suspect is believed to have assets worth billions of baht in the names of her children, who also run a legitimate insurance firm with an annual income of 600 million baht, said the national deputy police chief.
Ms Navaporn was initially charged with falsifying and using fake official documents, giving false information to authorities, and using bogus visa stamps on international travel documents.
Police are looking to see if money laundering charges can be pressed against her and if she has been involved in other criminal activities under other names, he said, adding the suspect was found to have changed names several times.
Pol Gen Surachate said some Thai officials and doctors must have been in on the plot, and police are gathering evidence to bring charges against them. A warrant has been issued to arrest a Thai woman hired as a surrogate mother for the kidnapped Chinese woman.
According to Pol Gen Surachate, Thai and Chinese authorities are working closely to stamp out shady and illegal activities operated by Chinese criminals who, according to him, fled a crackdown in China and settled in the kingdom.
He said that some Chinese tourists do not want to travel to Thailand out of safety concerns. They have heard about criminal activities ranging from scams to abduction-for-ransom by Chinese gangsters using Thailand as a base.
"We're going through records to see if Ms Navaporn is wanted in other cases. The investigation is widening, and we must wipe out the entire syndicate," he said.
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