'Angel' doll vendors busted for tax evasion

'Angel' doll vendors busted for tax evasion

A policeman shows a “luk thep
A policeman shows a “luk thep" (child angel) doll after more than a hundred of them were seized in separate raids, at the Economic Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok on Jan. 26. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

Lifelike dolls that are supposed to bring good luck to their owners failed to come through for some vendors on Tuesday when they were raided by police for tax evasion.

The pricey luk thep, or child angel, dolls, which can cost up to 21,600 baht, were first popularised by celebrities who claimed dressing up and feeding the figurines had brought them professional success.

Doll-mania has since swept up the superstitious, with adults bringing the figures to Buddhist ceremonies, restaurants and even on planes, where they reportedly have been issued seats and served mid-flight refreshments.

But after Thailand's police chief warned this week the fad was going too far, officers on Tuesday confiscated more than 100 dolls and arrested three vendors in Bangkok for allegedly failing to pay import taxes.

"Mostly they imported [the dolls] from China," Pol Col Kriangsak Kanrayawattanajaroen, deputy commander of the Economic Crime Suppression Bureau, told AFP.

He added that the vendors had avoided paying more than 100,000 baht.

The bust followed reports this week that Thai Smile airline was offering ticketed seats and meals to the dolls, accommodating owners who did not want to stow them as carry-on luggage.

Thai media published a leaked airline memo that defined the "child angels" as "a doll that is alive".

The memo said the dolls should be placed in window seats so as not to disturb other passengers and that seatbelts should be worn during takeoff and landing, according to reports.

Thai Smile declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

Anthropologist Visisya Pinthongvijayakul told AFP that while the angel doll trend only started last year, the practice has roots in the ancient occult worship of preserved foetuses thought to contain a child's spirit.

More than 90% of Thais identify as Buddhist. But the country's Buddhism is known for its syncretism, comfortably blending many animist and Hindu traditions into daily worship.

Mr Visisya said he has seen many shopkeepers and vendors buy the new angel dolls in hopes the talismans will boost sales during currently bleak times for the stuttering economy and ongoing political instability.

"From the perspective of Thais this is a very uncertain time," said Mr Visisya, citing the plunging price of rubber and the ruling military junta's lid on dissent.

"I think this is a practice that reflects an unstable and critical moment in Thai society."

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