PHUKET: Two men arrested on Phuket stand accused of ”mafia style” intimidation and extortion, a joint statement issued by the Minister of Tourism and Sport and the Commander of the Royal Thai Police has announced.
Minister Somsak Pureesrisak and Thailand Commander General Adul Saengsingkaew said the arrested men headed the taxi rank at Phuket’s Central Festival shopping mall in Phuket City.
The arrested men are Pom Sukkasem, 42, who was nabbed in Rassada Moo 5 and Sern Sukkasem, 52, who was held in Vichit Moo 2.
Both arrests were made by Department of Special Investigation officers on Phuket about 1.30pm on Sunday, the statement said.
The pair controlled 170 drivers and organised beatings and intimidated tuk-tuk and taxi non-member drivers who dropped passengers at the Central Festival mall, the statement said.
Each of the 170 drivers in the Central Festival collective paid 200 baht every month for membership, the statement said. The pair controlled the Central Festival taxi queues.
”These men were carrying out a campaign of intimidation and extortion,” Khun Somsak added. He said he had complaints from 16 embassies and from social networks about taxi and tuk-tuk drivers around Thailand, but especially about the drivers on Phuket.
”These people are ruining the image of tourism in Thailand,” he said. The two men have denied all charges.
Department of Special Investigation officers arrived on Phuket on August 9 to begin a campaign to tackle corruption on Phuket, especially in the taxi and tuk-tuk transport business where high fares and poor service have brought complaints from tourists.
The first arrests were promised within 30 days.
The DSI is working with the Phuket administration, with local police and with the Tourism and Sport Ministry. The campaign follows complaints from the Ambassadors of the European Union and China.
Two Crime Crisis Centres have been opened on Phuket for tourists, residents and expats to file complaints. One branch is at the Phuket International Airport, the other at Phuket City Police Station.
.. An efficient and fairly priced public transport system in Phuket which is available to foreign tourists and residents alike.
.. An end to intimidatory and violent behavior by an element of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers.
.. Strict enforcement of marine safety standards, including flags on beaches to indicate when it is safe to swim.
.. Strict enforcement of standards of behavior for public officials, including police and Immigration, to ensure that foreign visitors and residents feel protected, treated in a fair way and never at risk of extortion.
.. An end to scams involving hiring of equipment such as jet skis or motorbikes.
.. Strict enforcement of road safety regulations.
.. Promotion of environmental issues, including monitoring of water quality.
Corruption Start a well-promoted public campaign to end corruption on the island and prosecute any official caught taking bribes. Investigate all allegations about Immigration officers and police. Create a corruption-free Phuket model for other provinces.
Sustainability Begin an investigation into what’s required to keep Phuket a natural and appealing destination and set limits on development and tourist numbers based on the results of that investigation. Save the reefs and the beaches. Create a Phuket Beach Authority.
Transport Require all tuk-tuk and taxi drivers to register again and to meet international standards of service before being given new licences. Reduce their numbers by 10 percent a year for three years, offering alternative training. Introduce a call centre and abolish double-payment for journeys passengers don’t make.
Crime Provide an extra 500 police for Phuket based on its actual population. Take up the Australian ambassador’s suggestion of obliterating all illegal weapons and make the island a no-guns, no-knives zone.