More than 200 arrested in Phuket nominee crackdown
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More than 200 arrested in Phuket nominee crackdown

Russians account for majority of foreigners accused of using Thai nominees for businesses

Police question a Thai woman during a search at a company suspected of using Thais as nominees for its business in Phuket. (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)
Police question a Thai woman during a search at a company suspected of using Thais as nominees for its business in Phuket. (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)

Ninety-eight foreign nationals, mostly Russians, were among 231 suspects arrested during a crackdown on nominee businesses in Phuket, with assets worth over 1.5 billion baht seized.

Police from the Economic Crime Suppression Division (ECSD) searched accounting and real estate firms in the island province as part of the operation, Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) commissioner Pol Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej said on Friday.

Charges are pending against 96 juristic persons and 135 individuals.

Of the individuals, there were 98 foreign nationals, mostly Russians, and 37 Thais who acted as nominees for foreign companies, said Pol Gen Jirabhop. The individuals were later granted bail.

The foreign suspects were charged with running businesses by avoiding or violating provisions of the law, and having Thais or those who were not foreign nationals support or jointly run businesses that foreigners did not have permission to run.

The Thai suspects were charged with aiding or supporting businesses of foreign nationals who had not received permission to operate the businesses as stated in the law, said Pol Gen Jirabhop.

Seized during the crackdown were 225 bank accounts with 319 million baht in circulation; 245 land documents, including those for 96 condominium units worth about 1 billion baht and 43 title deeds covering 24 rai of land worth about 200 million baht; 196 passports, 108 work permits; documents related to the setting up of 800 companies; 1,601 stamps of companies, four electronic devices and other items. The seized assets were worth over 1.5 billion baht, police said.

The police operation was launched after local residents complained to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin that foreign nationals, mostly Russians, had been running businesses and buying many residential units and land plots with unusually high prices. Foreign-run tour-related businesses were among the activities that took away jobs from Thais and caused damage to the economic system, said Pol Gen Jirabhop.

Pol Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej, head of the Central Investigation Bureau, announces the arrest of 231 suspects — individuals and juristic persons — in Phuket during a crackdown on nominee businesses. (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)

The prime minister then ordered acting national police chief Kitrat Panphet to assign the relevant agencies to investigate.

The ECSD, a unit of the CIB, subsequently launched an investigation and found that 59,717 Russian nationals had entered Phuket since the Russia-Ukraine war began in early 2022. They noted an unusually high number of 1,603 new businesses registered in the province.

Pol Maj Gen Phutthidet Boonkraphue, the ECSD commander, gave the example of businesses involving one foreign woman, identified only as Iana, 45.

She was found to be an executive and shareholder in nine companies — seven real estate firms, one service firm and one tour company — with total registered capital of 38 million baht. The companies occupied three luxury condominium and apartment projects worth over 900 million baht, said the ECSD chief.

The investigators found that a Thai woman, identified only as Trithip, acted as a nominee for Ms Iana. Ms Trithip and other Thai nationals were also found to be nominees for 272 firms — 142 had only Thai shareholders and the rest had both foreign and Thai shareholders.

The investigators subsequently gathered evidence to seek court approval to arrest those involved in nominee businesses, said Pol Maj Gen Phutthidet.

During questioning, Ms Trithip admitted she had been hired to serve as a nominee for 30,000 to 50,000 baht per firm.

Pol Maj Gen Phutthidet said the investigators had already issued summonses to 85 of the foreign nationals to hear charges of using Thai nominees. The investigation is being extended, he added.

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