Cops up ante on foreign criminals
text size

Cops up ante on foreign criminals

Bogus firms process visas, take Thai jobs, act as nominees

Tourists crowd old town Phuket. (File photo: Achadthaya Chuenniran)
Tourists crowd old town Phuket. (File photo: Achadthaya Chuenniran)

Authorities are ramping up their crackdown on foreign criminals who arrive in the guise of tourists and use Thailand as their base for committing crimes.

Pol Lt Gen Surapong Thanomjit, commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 8, said the government has instructed the Royal Thai Police and the Interior Ministry to take measures to deal with the problem, particularly in Phuket. Phuket police have set up a task force to crack down on these foreign criminals, he added.

Foreigners seeking to operate businesses or find work in Thailand have to abide by the Foreign Business Act and Foreign Workers Act, which lay down regulations to ensure national security and reserve certain jobs for Thais.

Last year, more than 11 million tourists visited Phuket, bringing in more than 380 billion baht, according to Phuket's Tourism Authority of Thailand office. This year, the private sector in Phuket expects the number of tourists to increase by 5-10%, which is expected to bring in 400 billion baht.

Lertchai Wangtrakuldee, director of Phuket's Tourism Authority of Thailand office, earlier said the island province was expected to be crowded during the Thai New Year holiday from April 12–16.

The hotel occupancy rate as of April 11 was already at 80% of capacity, he said, adding an estimated 264,350 visitors were expected to flock to Phuket during the five-day festival, spending 6,625 baht per person per day on average, which will bring 7.04 billion baht to the island.

The influx of foreign arrivals raises concern among authorities about foreign criminals who disguise themselves as tourists, as well as foreigners who use Thais as business nominees to skirt rules that restrict certain businesses to Thai citizens.

Lertchai: Criminals pretend to be tourists

Nominee no-no

Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a United Thai Nation (UTN) Party list MP, said he has received complaints from locals in Phuket that many foreigners are taking jobs reserved for Thais.

He said some foreigners try to circumvent rules by hiring Thais as their business nominees to hold shares on their behalf in a company.

This arrangement typically involves Thai individuals holding 51% of shares and foreigners holding 49% to allow businesses to operate as legal entities without the need for special permits, he said.

''If such a company operates a restaurant, income will go to the company's account and then will be transferred to the personal account of the foreigners. The money will then be sent overseas. In some cases, the money will be turned into digital assets," he said.

He emphasised that Thais should not be misled into providing assistance or support or holding shares on behalf of foreigners to allow foreign individuals to conduct business here illegally.

"I want to warn Thais who act as nominees for foreigners. It is illegal. It is not worth the money and benefits you receive [for acting as nominees]," he said.

Pol Lt Gen Surapong said the Provincial Police Region 8 is investigating more than 60 companies suspected of acting as nominees for foreigners in the South, mostly in Phuket and Surat Thani.

He said local authorities in Phuket will roll out a campaign to inform foreigners about how to conduct business in Thailand.

Surapong: A fresh crackdown has begun

On April 3-4, police raided 17 companies in Phuket allegedly used as business nominees by a Russian money laundering network, according to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD).

During the operation, the authorities seized two computers allegedly containing a database of foreign clients seeking to register Thai firms to be used as shell companies, more than 50 corporate stamps and 500 related documents, said CSD commander Pol Maj Gen Montree Theskhan.

Before the raid, police investigated a Russian man suspected of being involved in money laundering, he said.

Police discovered the suspect had secured his Thai visa with the help of a Thai company, he said, adding the firm listed two Thai women and one Russian woman as registered shareholders.

The male suspect, who allegedly received cryptocurrency transfers and resold them for cash between July 7 and Nov 19 last year, withdrew 186 million baht from his three bank accounts, Pol Maj Gen Montree said.

He added the accounts were believed to be part of a Russian money laundering network.

As the police delved into the criminal network, they found it was linked to 38 other companies, he said.

The discovery led the CSD to raid 17 of the companies, he said. Police also arrested the two Thai women, who allegedly confessed to setting up bogus companies to assist visa and work permit applicants.

According to the Business Development Department, more than 400 companies in popular tourism cities operate their businesses using nominees.

Auramon Supthaweethum, the department director-general, said inspections have been carried out in major tourism provinces, including Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Surat Thani and Chon Buri.

In-depth investigations were conducted on businesses in the hospitality sector, including those managing tour guides, restaurants, car rentals and hotels, and real estate.

The agency found that 419 firms may be acting as business nominees; 313 of them were ordered to submit more documents for verification.

The department is also working with the Tourism Department and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to check a further 59 firms in Phuket.

Do you like the content of this article?