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The investigators of the illegal beach sunbed industry on Phuket have revealed details of the cases they have built against Mayor Thawee Thongchaem of Karon, who surrendered to police on June 4 in answer to a variety of corruption and ‘”mafia taxi” charges.
The revelations came at a press conference this afternoon (September 25) headed by Pol Lt Gen Panya Mamen, Commissioner of Region 8, and his deputy, Pol Maj Gen Somchai Aomthanom.
Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin, Commander of the Region 8 General Staff Division, who has led the investigation into Mr Thawee’s alleged activities, told The Phuket News yesterday (September 24), “Tomorrow about 15 sunbed operators will be summoned to the police station to be charged with trespassing on public land.
“We have collected evidence about the money involved in the renting out of beach space on Karon and Kata beaches. We have the documents.
“For example, one five-year contract for a 99-meter stretch of the beach cost B6.25 million. Another, for 80 meters of beach for three years cost B4.5 million. A third one, for a year, cost B1.69 million.”
All of these contracts, he said, related to the charges well-known hotels in the area had to pay to have rows of sunbeds on the beach.
The way it worked was this: The Karon Municipality would allocate a sunbed operator space in front of the resort. He would then go to the hotel and offer to reserve the sunbeds exclusively for the resort’s guests – for a fee.
CHEQUES FOR MILLIONS
The Phuket News was shown cheques for B3 million and B2.9 million made out to one sunbed operator, Visut Chankham, in 2010. Police erased the names of the resorts from the copies of the cheques and other documents.
We were also shown a “permit” signed by Mayor Thawee Thongcham of Karon Municipality, permitting Prayad Pakiem to set up sunbeds “on public beach in the Karon Municipality area”.
Another, also signed by Mayor Thawee, permitted Chanrit Thaweesaman of Karon to do the same at a Karon beach, and also to sell fruit and drinks on the beach. Police also produced an official license card signed by Thawee.
Gen Paween then also showed us an invoice from Charnrit to a large, well known resort, for the sum of B874,000 for one year’s sunbed service, and a cheque from the resort to Charnrit for the same amount.
More officials may be involved. Prayad’s permit mentions approval being given by “Phuket”.
The police also seized from Karon Municipality a map of Kata Beach clearly showing how the entire beach had been divided up, and naming the operators for each of the 31 slices, which run from the top of the beach to about halfway to the high tide line.
The map notes that the total length of the beach is 1,497.2 metres and the space for sunbeds takes up 1,087 metres of that length.
Similar maps for other beaches in the Karon Municipality area show 12 slices at Kata Noi, 25 at Karon 1 Beach, and 24 at Karon 2 Beach. All the maps are signed by Monthira Sapanin, a “Community Development Officer”
That’s a total of 92 sunbed operators on the four beaches, many of them in front of resorts.
Pol Maj Gen Paween said, “We will be issuing summonses to about 100 businessmen soon.” Mayor Thawee and two of his deputies, along with two Karon Municipality officials have denied any wrongdoing.
AN EXAMPLE AND A WARNING
At the press conference today a six-year-old case was offered as a warning to sunbed operators who have been clamouring to get back on the beach, even appealing to HM the King.
The case involved Yutthana Tamchu, a member of the Sunbed Operators’ Club in the Patong area. He was taken to court in September 2008 for trespassing on Tritrang Beach two years earlier, by setting out chairs, tables, sunbeds and umbrellas for rent.
In court, Yutthana was sentenced to six months in jail and fined B4,000. Because he had pleaded guilty, the sentence was halved to three months and B2,000, and the jail term was suspended for a year.
Meanwhile, in a parallel case in the Administrative Court, the Kathu District Officer, the Mayor of Patong and Patong Municipality were accused of giving permission to Yutthana to occupy public beach for profit, but that court dismissed their cases.
During his trial Yutthana admitted his guilt but complained that he had been singled out unfairly because other sunbed operators at Tritrang had not been arrested. The judge responded that this was irrelevant.
Yutthana’s sunbeds, umbrellas, and other furniture were seized when he was arrested. He asked the court for their return. The judge said no.
The overall focus of today’s press conference was on Mayor Thawee. Similar revelations about the situation in Patong may be expected soon.