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Kathu police along with other officials have assembled local operators and residents to ‘create understanding’ in anticipation to raiding 16 illegal taxi ranks in Patong. The raids are part of a Royal Thai Police crackdown to eradicate the influence of the transport mafia on the island.
The police officer behind the four-month investigation of “mafia” taxi operation in Phuket, and the planner for the mass arrests and surrenders that have taken place over the past few days, says that Patong is also on his list of targets.
He confirmed that the former mayor of Patong, Pian Keesin, will be among those he will want to talk to at Phuket Provincial Police HQ.
In an exclusive interview, The Phuket News, asked Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin, Commander of the General Staff Division, Provincial Police Region 8, whether action would be taken soon against “mafia” taxi activities in Patong.
“If Commissioner of Region 8 [Pol Lt Gen Panya Mamen] gives the order for us to stay here and continue, we will.
“The main target area here is Patong which is controlled by influential people – local politicians. If this were within our powers, we’d already have warrants for these people. But it’s not, so we’ve appealed to the National Crime Suppression Division and already sent them the case.
“We believe that if we’re able to defuse the local power, the local people will step forward and help us to solve the problem with tuk tuks.”
Gen Paween feels confident he can clean up Phuket’s party town.“I will do this, if [Gen Panya] lets me.
“When he asked me to come to Phuket, I asked him, ‘Are you sure? Because if I go then I will do my very best. Please don’t put the brakes on.’”
As he spoke with The Phuket News, municipal workers guarded by hundreds of police were backing up yesterday’s mass arrests of “mafia” taxi drivers by ripping down their drivers’ “offices” outside some of Phuket’s best-known hotels, including Twin Palms and the Doubletree at Surin Beach.
Gen Paween told The Phuket News, “The Crime Suppression Police are carrying out this action against taxi drivers in Kata-Karon, Cherng Talay and Kamala.
“There may be other officers who are better for this job than me, so long as they have the courage, and are steady and honest; officers who do not think about themselves.
“I am a straightforward person. I never treat anyone badly. I simply follow what the evidence tells me. I’m not scared. The bad guys have to be scared of me.
“I always tell my officers not to take bribes. If I find any of them doing so, I kick them out of the team.
“I also tell them not to have any special agenda with people [outside the team]. They must think about one thing only: doing their jobs properly.”
Gen Paween also spoke about the Mayor of Karon, Tawee Thongcham, who surrendered yesterday (June 4) to answer charges of collusion with taxi drivers in Kata and Karon.
“During the four months of our investigations we found a lot of evidence pointing to Mr Tawee. He basically gave the municipal sala area to the taxi drivers, along with free electricity and water paid for by the public.
“Mr Tawee had also failed in his duty to stop illegal activities. So we had to arrest him.
“In Mr Tawee’s case there was very clear evidence. But you can observe that every OrBorTor allocates to taxi drivers a place that belongs to the public. If the OrBorTor did not give them permission, they could not build their stands there.”
He said that, for the drivers targeted, yesterday’s arrests came like a bolt from the blue. “The taxi drivers were confident of their power and were surprised and shocked to be arrested. Their families, too. They never thought this day would come. But the teams went in hard and fast.
“I am confident all 108 will be arrested. They may escape for now, but they will be arrested. People on the run become tired and worried about where they can stay, where they can sleep.”
At a press conference this afternoon, police announced that more of the wanted taxi drivers had surrendered, bringing the total in custody to 95.
Gen Paween garnered a reputation in Phuket for honesty when he was assigned to take over Kathu Police Station in Patong, a decade ago, after growing resentment over rampant police corruption there got way out of hand. He very quickly damped down the situation.