Privilege card loophole lets criminals in front door
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Privilege card loophole lets criminals in front door

Police urge more checks on elite visa applicants to prevent abuses of long-stay permits.

CIB chief Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej. (POLICE PHOTO)
CIB chief Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej. (POLICE PHOTO)

The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) is still looking into foreign nationals who are in the nation on elite visas and engaging in dubious business.

The issue came to light after the CIB discovered that a Chinese suspect used a Thailand Privilege Card visa to live here and launder huge sums of money for call centre scam gangs.

"Chen Yon Lai is a key figure who launders money for illegal scam gangs in the region," Central Investigation Bureau commissioner Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej said in an interview with the Bangkok Post.

Mr Chen, 52, was arrested at a luxury house in Phasi Charoen district of Bangkok on April 28, the same day police also arrested a Thai member of his gang, identified only as Anan, 44, at his house in the eastern province of Chachoengsao.

During the raid, police seized 11 million baht in cash, two computers, seven mobile phones, eight bank account books, 13 cash cards, five cars and other assets worth about 42 million baht in total.

Police found Mr Chen managed digital wallets with about 70 billion baht in circulation.

The arrest of the suspects was the result of an expanded investigation that saw police arrest five members of a call centre gang last year.

The gang created a fake website on the CIB Facebook page to defraud people of their money.

Police investigated further and found many other people involved, including Mr Chen and Anan.

They were in charge of handling digital wallets used in illicit transactions and transforming digital assets into cash.

Following that, police searched eight premises to apprehend the two suspects: four in Bangkok, two in Samut Prakan, two more in Chachoengsao, and one in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Five additional people connected to the two accused were also invited in for questioning.

Mr Chen and Anan were charged with colluding in public fraud and transnational crime, inputting false information into a computer system and laundering money. They denied all charges.

After looking through the cell phones that were taken from Mr Chen, the authorities obtained proof that he was using an app to handle many digital wallets for a Cambodian call centre gang.

"Mr Chen is a key player for the gang because he had to exchange the digital currency into cash," Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said.

Mr Chen lived in a luxury house from which he hired a Thai nominee to buy several properties in cash, such as the two-storey house that he was arrested in, land plots, cars, jewellery and other valuable items, he said.

Police also found that Mr Chen had a five-year visa as he was a member of the Thailand Privilege Card scheme, formerly known as the Thailand Elite card.

"We are concentrating on criminals who enter the nation with Thailand Privilege Card visas. Criminals have been known to enter Thailand using this kind of visa to assist their entry and exit from the country," Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said.

He said the Thailand Elite card was issued by the Thailand Privilege Card Company Limited, which is under the supervision of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Immigration officers can only verify that the cards are valid, and if the holders are not on the blacklist, they can enter the country.

"Effective steps are required to stop these offenders from abusing the privilege. Information sharing between various parties is one measure.

"Before being eligible for the privilege card, a background check on one's financial sources should also be required," he said.

On the day of Mr Chen's arrest, police also found his Chinese wife and his three children, who have Thai nationality.

Police said his children are Thai because Mr Chen allowed his wife to register her marriage to a Thai man and allowed that man to be the children's legal father, granting the children Thai nationality.

When asked why Mr Chen used Thailand as a base for money laundering, Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said it was because the country has resources to help foreigners live comfortably, like hospitals and international schools.

He added that doing business here is simple.

"Our system makes it easy for anyone to do a business so it gives a loophole those criminals to use Thailand as a base for money laundering," he said.

He said Mr Chen traded and converted digital currency to baht and yuan using a non-custodial wallet.

He was able to take money out of the non-custodial wallet quickly and move it to other mule accounts run by the Cambodian call centre gang.

Police will investigate further to find more members of the gang.

"We believe there are still many people who are members of the gang hiding in Thailand as well as in China and Cambodia," he said.

In addition to apprehending offenders, the CIB also operates the Anti-Online Scam Operation Centre (AOC), a one-stop service centre of the Digital Economy and Society Ministry that solves technology-related crimes, including online scams and fraud.

People can file their complaints with AOC through or via its 1441 hotline service.

He said the AOC employs a combination of aggressive and defensive strategies, such as tracking down illicit financial transactions and blocking illicit websites or fraudulent pages.

Since being established in November last year, the AOC has blocked more than 5,000 website URLs and tracked down and arrested countless call centre gang network members.

Nevertheless, many still fall prey to the tricks of call centre scam gangs.

To prevent additional harm, the AOC works with Thai banks to monitor suspicious bank accounts and freeze questionable financial transactions.

The collaboration has helped avert many losses in real time, he said.

When with police hot on their tail, call centre scammers modified their strategy by using cryptocurrency.

So, he said the CIB is now working with banks, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and operators of digital asset businesses to come up with strategies for averting similar incidents in the future.

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