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Graft busters get serious about Phuket dive industry extortion

The Office of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) is to conduct a full-blown investigation into police extortion of Phuket’s dive industry, starting next Monday.

Pol Lt Col Wannop Somchintanakul, Director of Suppression of Corruption in Public Sector 4, told The Phuket News, “We will be there with the team of many officers. We have set up a complaints inquiry committee to investigate the case and to prosecute the police who are alleged to have been involved in extortion.”

dive industry extortionThe investigation will begin by hearing evidence and allegations from foreign members of the dive community who were victims of the extortion. The timing and venue where the investigators will listen to complaints will be announced soon.

The PACC investigation team will be led by Pol Col Prawet Munpramuk, assistant to Prayong Preeyachitt, the PACC’s Deputy Secretary-General, who visited the offices of the Association of Thailand Underwater Sports (ATUS) in Phuket at the beginning of April, and promised to consider an inquiry.

“We already have some evidence,” Col Wannop told The Phuket News today, “but I don’t want to go into detail at this stage. We will reveal more after the investigation begins on April 28.”

Col Wannop said that his team would have no problem prosecuting the alleged police extortionists, even though they were not in uniform at the time.

“That’s not relevant. It’s wrong-doing whether they wear uniform or not – they are police officers,” he said.

The ATUS board is currently contacting eight diving instructors to get them to meet with the PACC investigators. Another 17 appear to have left Phuket already as the high season winds down and work is no longer available, but ATUS will contact them, too, to try to get them to testify.

The rogue police officers arrested dozens of dive industry staff, principally dive instructors, for allegedly contravening the terms of their work permits and “acting as tour guides”.

The offenders were taken to Chalong Police Station where they were told they could spend a couple of nights in the cells, followed by a court hearing and possibly a jail sentence or expulsion from Thailand – or could pay B30,000 to have the charges dropped.

Some were told they must pay a further B3,000 a month to avoid being caught again. Most paid.

Since then the Phuket Employment Office (PEO), which issues work permits, has been going round dive companies explaining the fine line over which foreign dive instructors must not step.

The most common infringement allowing the rogue cops to extort money appears to have been that foreign dive instructors picked up and carried bags belonging to customers.

By doing this, the PEO said, the instructors were acting as “tour guides” – a function restricted to Thais alone. This rendered them vulnerable to extortion, the PEO said.

Phuket News

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