During the last week of February, Thai immigration officers arrested a 29-year-old Indian “mafia figure” wanted for murder, kidnapping, and extortion; three Chinese nationals who had been smuggled into Thailand in a supercar; and a Briton who was blacklisted but entered the country on an Israeli passport.
There is a change in the criminal class. Previously, Russians were involved in drug trafficking, counterfeiting and bank fraud in Pattaya,” said a detective who hunts down foreign crooks told SCMP
It’s now Chinese, Koreans, and Taiwanese who are doing a lot of the online gambling
and call-center scams, using Pattaya as the base where they rent big houses and use hundreds of phones to target their victims.
Multibillion-dollar scams frequently target Chinese nationals in China, whom the gangs lure in with interest-free loans, bogus stock deals, and phony investment opportunities.
Detectives have been alerted to such gangs by noticing that large quantities of takeaway meals were being delivered to big properties and no one has ever been seen entering or leaving, he said.
Thailand has long been a magnet for criminals of all types, from drug traffickers and dark web administrators to fugitives like Bali bomber Hambali and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
According to Paul Quaglia
, a former CIA agent and CEO of political risk consultancy PQA Associates, Thailand has always been a place where people could do illicit trades. In the 90s, this was where a lot of offshore terrorist groups, particularly those operating in Sri Lanka, bought weapons from Thailand.
Besides fake documents, you could also buy fake passports in Thailand. Much of that changed after 9/11 when the United States came in and helped Thailand shore up its security.
Criminals’ lives have also been made more difficult by the pandemic, as the number of flights was reduced and multiple pre-departure documents checks were introduced, in addition to the authorities tracking any flight to Thailand and new arrivals.
As a result of the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly difficult for criminals to melt into crowds. Thailand welcomed 40 million tourists last year but has seen only a fraction of that amount in the years since.
Previously, the number of visitors couldn’t be processed fast enough by immigration, said Pisal Erb-arb, deputy commander of Thailand’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau. But since the pandemic, foreign criminals are easier to catch because there are fewer people around.
Criminals Forced to Adapt
The most prominent arrest during the pandemic was Hong Kong passport holder Lee Chung Chak, the alleged logistics chief of the Sam Gor group – one of the world’s largest drug networks – arrested in the capital of Thailand in October 2020.
Criminals in Thailand have been forced to adapt to the pandemic despite Thailand travel restrictions, with top-level meetings between gangsters put on hold and drug mules no longer being able to hide as airline passengers.
According to Jeremy Douglas
, Asia representative at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, they don’t play by the same rules as the rest of us do, so they can shift methods quickly to connect supply and demand.
Criminals often take advantage of open and accommodating societies, and Thailand fits the bill, as it is very open for business and travel, Douglas said