Body parts case spurs overstay blitz
Foreigners under scrutiny after suspect overstayed welcome, writes Wassayos Ngamkham
The murder and dismemberment of Spanish national David Bernat, notorious for its brutality, has also led to renewed emphasis by immigration police on cracking down on foreigners who overstay their visas.
A fellow Spaniard, the key suspect in the case, overstayed his visa since December. Police say many foreigners who engage in crimes in Thailand have, as a common link, a tendency to overstay, as they are here not to see the sights but to engage in wrong-doing, which they would rather keep under wraps.
As the manhunt for suspect Artur Segarra Princep got underway, the prime minister approved tougher penalties for foreigners who overstay. The Spaniard had visited Thailand more than 200 times in the past decade, police said.
Because of the visa link to the case, the Immigration Bureau (IB) is now seeking cooperation from hoteliers to report information about their foreign guests. At the same time, the Central Investigation Bureau has also launched a new crackdown on foreigners suspected of operating criminal gangs on Thai soil.
These are the wider changes spurred by a baffling probe which started initially with the discovery of a series of body parts, and no information as to who they might have belonged to. The case broke on Jan 30 when residents of a community near Wat Kharuehabodi shipyard, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bang Phlat district, discovered the right arm of a human floating in the river.
The following morning, three more human parts -- from the knee to the calf of the leg, the upper right leg and the head -- were found floating near Wat Tamnak Tai pier in Nonthaburi province. And a few hours later a human torso was then found at Wat Thian Thawai pier in Pathum Thani. Two days later, a left ankle was found at Wat Kroen pier, also in Pathum Thani. The human parts were sent to the Institute of Forensic Medicine for inspection. They found the parts were found to belong to the same person, a westerner.
An investigation team led by Pol Col Nopasil Pulsawas, chief investigator of the Metropolitan Police Bureau's Division 3, was assigned to the case. They asked police stations around the country for news of foreigners reported missing. They turned up Bernat, a 43-year-old Spanish adviser to the board chairman of Leading Mobile (Iran) Co and other businesses in Europe, who went missing recently. His disappearance was reported to Lumpini police.
The Spanish embassy provided investigators with samples of Bernat's fingerprints. The results from tests matched the body parts belong to the Spanish national. A check of his immigration history showed Bernat entered and left Thailand frequently in 2013 but did not return again until Jan 19. Some irregularities were detected in a check of his bank transaction history.
A series of online money transfers to a Thai bank account held by Mr Segarra, 37, caught the police's attention. The account was opened at a Kasikornbank branch on Samui island in Surat Thani and a large amount of money was withdrawn at various ATMs both in Bangkok and Rojana Industrial Park in Ayutthaya province. The last withdrawal was on Feb 4 at an ATM in Wang Noi district of Ayutthaya.
Police believe Mr Segarra was the last person alone with Bernat at his PG Condominium unit in the Rama IX area. They believe he was involved in a plot to extort money from the Spaniard, which led to his eventual murder. They also sought Pritsana Saen-ubon, Mr Segarra's Thai girlfriend.
On the evening of Feb 5, investigators detected a mobile phone connection to a number owned by Mr Segarra. The connection was detected in Chachoengsao province and the handset was moving. Analysing the number's route, investigators decided Mr Segarra and Ms Pritsana were probably travelling to Surin province, the girlfriend's hometown.
They later detained her in the northeastern province and found a motorcycle left in a forest near the Chong Chom immigration checkpoint near the border with Cambodia. Mr Segarra was later arrested in the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville and handed over to Thai police on Feb 8. He denies any wrongdoing.
Pol Lt Gen Nathathorn Phrosunthorn, chief of the Immigration Bureau, said a law that is due to take effect on March 20, together with a biometric immigration system that will begin in April, should assist police. "We have to clamp down on overstayers as a new measure to beat crime,'' he said.
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