Pattaya' Perfect Dilemma
Andrew Drummond for The Nation, Bangkok
March 30th 1997
Pattaya's Perfect Dilemma
Hoteliers, tourist authority and city officials, a newspaper publisher, and local politicians last week invited foreign journalists based in Thailand down to the resort of Pattaya to promote the resort and air their complaints of unfair press reporting.
The city regularly appears in foreign newspapers described as a 'the sun, sex and sleaze resort'. Britain's Observer has called it a 20th century 'Sodom and Gomorah'.
Now the city is hitting back but, according to Andrew Drummond, a foreign correspondent accredited to the London 'Times' ,law enforcement problems in Pattaya means, it may be just shadow boxing.
The air in Pattaya was heady with a sense of achievement. Journalists on a promotional trip who had been entertained at dinner parties, and a boat trip, were now listening to an after dinner speech in an area sandwiched between Suzie's (Body) Massage parlour and the bay which is about to get a US$45 million 'detox'.
'Enjoy,' said Chonburi's Governor Sujarit Pajchimnan , 'it's so much better to write good news about Pattaya.'
The President of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Philippe Decaux rose in the euphoria, comparing Pattaya favourably with Mexico's Acapulco where 'zee gerrls', he joked, ate raw chillies and suffered the results in their temperament.
Quality tourists would soon return to Pattaya City was the message being pushed loud and clear.
Down Beach Road at a bar named the 'Dogs Bollocks' - T-shirt 'NO DARTS, NO BACKPACKERS, LAGER LOUTS WELCOME - nobody cared., or rather ' gave', as they said in the local London cockney patois, 'a monkey's uncle'.
The skinhead drinkers, counting their tattoos, were more concerned with the recovery of their 'mate' Phil, who had been shot through the neck at a Pattaya beer bar earlier in the week.
Older drinkers, new arrivals from South Africa via Spain's Costa Del Sol - known in the British press as the 'Costa del Crime' - were more pre-occupied discussing 'mates' who had pulled off the Brinks Matt robbery at London's Heathrow airport (Britain's biggest gold bullion robbery) than in the backslapping along the road at the party for foreign correspondents.
But the skinheads mourning their friend would, in common with one or two Pattaya hoteliers, have happily strung up a journalist or two had they recognised one through the haze. On the football terraces back home bagging a journalist is something akin to making merit.
As for their friend, a 200,000 baht reward, they said, had been put up to find the gunman who shot South Londoner Philip Morgue outside South Patty's 'Lucky Star' bar complex a week ago.
No doubt more will unfold of Mr. Mordue, who gave his address as a penthouse in the Royal Cliff resort complex.
'We do,' conceded Dr.Virachai Techavit, Advisor to the Prime Minister, a day later after press criticism of rampant paedophilia, sex merchandising and foreign crime in Pattaya ' have particular law enforcement problems in Pattaya'.
'It is recognised at the highest level of government,' he said, 'matters are in hand on a national level to improve the policing of Thailand'.
Some foreign correspondents took this... well.. er, there were a mixture of facial expressions.
Pattaya is cleaning up its image. Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent on improving the infrastructure and making the beach larger and the water safe for swimming.
In terms of entertainment facilities and the wide range of hotels available for both budget and executive tourists, journalists could hardly argue, there is no place to rival Pattaya in Thailand.
But while frantic P.R. efforts are being made to improve the resort's image, reports of crime involving tourists and foreign residents in the city, not only carried by foreign newspapers but freely flowing through the Internet, appears to be choking the city's attempt at recovery. And Pattaya first announced a clean up five years ago.
'Lets have less of these sex stories' said Peter Malhotra, Editor of the Pattaya Mail, as the lights of thousands of beer bars, go go bars, massage parlours and karaokes lit up the sky around.
(The Pattaya Mail is something of a reference book for journalists writing sex and crime stories about Pattaya. Its page three lead last week was 'Drunk Monk Flashes Brethren')
Mr. Malhotra's views were echoed by Michael Vogt, Manager of the Thai Garden Resort. Michael Vogt had good reason for wanting to shoot the messengers. His hotel inadvertently hosted a party of different sorts earlier this year when three German tourists were drugged and robbed in their rooms after sneaking in bar girls.
Newspaper reporters and television crews from throughout Europe converged on his hotel lobby, one armed with pharmaceutical reference book, spurred on by the news that some prostitutes had used a gel which they spread on their nipples to send the tourists to sleep.
In years to come Pattaya will find its own level and be appreciated for the qualities which have failed to attract publicity. But for the time being at least it is still limping from a massive influx of 'no questions asked' foreign cash, which began arriving in the late seventies.And without sex tourists, hoteliers quietly argue off stage, the resort would be down on all fours.
Current evidence with foreign police forces suggests that with the help of the local police, foreigners with extensive criminal background have infiltrated the highest levels of local society.
These backgrounds of extortion, living off immoral earnings, and fraud, it's claimed are being put to good use in businesses And more recently the city has become a launching pad for criminals moving across to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville in Cambodia.
What is happening is mirrored in other parts of Thailand, but as the largest single resort and close to Bangkok Pattaya is constantly under the magnifying glass.
Because of known links between foreign criminals and local police, for many years foreign police forces making enquires in Pattaya have had a policy of bypassing local law enforcement officers, preferring instead to travel with C.S.D men (Crime Suppression Division officers) from Bangkok.
In recent developments that policy has been extended. Foreigners arrested in Pattaya have even been brought to Bangkok to await trial to ensure closer control.
On British National Criminal Intelligence Service files are several long suspected paedophiles, one described 'as extremely dangerous', living in Thailand and two of whom have set up home and attained respect in 'cheese and wine' circles.
'In terms of European and Russian crime gangs operating in Thailand, a Bangkok based western police official, said:' Four our of six use Pattaya as their base, moving forged currencies, credit cards, drugs and people both young and old across borders.
With few exceptions these groups have established legitimate businesses and have experienced no problems with their visa and work permit paperwork.'
In turn Pattaya Police face criticism that they themselves now control most of the crime in Pattaya. 'Not quite fair, but while they have not been throwing all the dice they have at least been playing the game,' the same officer adds. 'In many cases they are just paid to turn a blind eye.'
Currently two Pattaya Police officers are charged and going through the courts for selling under aged boys to tourists, and for setting up tourists with drugs and blackmailing them with threats of long jail sentences if they failed to hand over substantial sums of cash.
Last year four police officers were transferred from Pattaya, Banglamuang, where another policeman, Sergeant Thap Waralert, is charged with running a brothel, where he forced a kidnapped 15-year old girl to service customers at 250 baht a time.
A former policeman is accused of running the gang of prostitutes which befriended, drugged and robbed tourists in their hotel rooms, including Mr. Vogt's Thai Garden Resort.
But these are merely a few of the officers who have been arrested, often from outside pressure.
A wide range of police officers have been implicated indirectly in the extortion of money from arrested child sex abusers, who according to reports by international child welfare officers, have had free range of the resort for many years.
On January 9th this year a Japanese tourist Hisao Natsume, an alleged child pornographer, who was arrested in Pattaya for offences against children at the request of Japanese police, told the 'Mainichi Shimbun' newspaper that he paid 600,000 (Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£10,000) baht to Pattaya police for his release.
Although scores of paedophiles have been arrested in Pattaya over the last two years only one has made it to trial, and then only under the monitoring of Thai based watchdog group the Coalition to Fight Against Child Exploitation.
Staunch supporters of Pattaya, and there are many, argue with credit that law abiding tourists return happily year after year to enjoy the resorts facilities. But not even these tourists are beyond crime's ever extending and sophisticated arm.
Among complaints of tourists returning to Britain many have been of being 'ripped off' and then 'run out of town' by foreign property dealers with friends in the police after investing in their life savings in property in the Pattaya area.
The Pattaya Mail newspaper has run a variety of stories of police sharing the spoils of goods stolen from tourists, police releasing foreign pornographers, and drunken policeman shooting off their guns in bars.
When a short while ago Peter Malhotra, was thrown through the plate glass window of a restaurant by a group of Austrian 'businessmen' he front paged the story promising 'We will not be gagged.' He has learned to be a little more circumspect and has said little of it since.
Under the counter payments at Pattaya police station, said one of the 'negotiators' quite openly this week should not be regarded as straightforward corruption. 'We understand and sympathise with tourists who face spending a long time in jail for a misdemeanor. This is a just a warning from the police. It means. Go away enjoy the rest of your holiday. But don't do it again. There is nothing that cannot be done if you want to get off, providing the timing is right. It's merely a matter of price.'
Nevertheless it means that while major offenders go free, minor offenders with no resources or syndicate backers are sent to Thai jails and forgotten.
Perhaps the most startling documented case of this type of extortion is that of Bernhard Erwin Strubing, 36, from Stuttgart, who gave himself the titular name and rank of Police Lieutenant Porn Somnathuanga, and was given a desk in Pattaya Police station and a police walkie talkie to help out with translations of foreigners arrested.
Police Lt Porn was truly not in the charity business. Having moved in on the case of Peter Bessanger, 35, from Zurich and his Singaporean wife Kim, who were arrested for possessing 20 grams of cocaine. He negotiated a deal this year worth Bht600,000 for the couple's release.
The money was duly handed over and documented because it was made from bank to bank.
After weeks of lying in Chonburi jail it began to dawn on Bessanger that he had kissed his money goodbye. A complaint was made which reached Embassy level and Strubing was asked to hand the cash back.
He returned over 300,000 but not before first handing a hand-written bill exceeding Baht100,000 for entertaining the local police, hiring cars for them and buying them meals, giving them cash, and then deducting his own expenses.
In a surprisingly frank taped statement Strubing said: 'The police are hungry. They have to eat too. And the higher the rank the more they eat. That's the way the system works here and that's my job.'
A Briton, Stuart Cunliffe, arrested around the same time for travellers cheque fraud, said after his release by Chonburi court early this year: 'For one million baht police offered to lose the evidence. I paid. So when my case came to court they withdrew their case. They had started at 150,000 baht and the price just went up and up.'
( Cunliffe a long term drugs trafficking suspect of New Scotland Yard died of an overdose of heroin in Bangkok two weeks after his release and his ashes were distributed in the Chao Phraya)
But if one criminal can take the biscuit for privileged foreign criminal of 1966 it's undoubtedly convicted Danish drugs trafficker Rene Larsen for many years a happy resident of Pattaya from where he conducted his deals.
Larsen, who laid on lavish parties at his villa in North Pattaya attended by police, was extradited to Denmark two years ago, escaped prison, and fled back to Pattaya to resume his normal lifestyle uninterrupted until spotted by a Danish tourist.
Scandinavian Police, avoiding Pattaya City police, worked with the Tourist Police, who made the arrest at gunpoint. But Larsen still had to be handed over to Pattaya City police to begin the process of extradition.
Larsen apparently became bored with the whole process. He arrived unexpectedly in Copenhagen under his own steam a short while later complaining about the food in Chonburi jail, long before anybody had reported his 'escape'.
Compounding Pattaya's problems in the foreign press are the reports of deaths of tourists in the resort. Over the years several have fallen victim to jet-skis and speedboats, but according to a Reuters report, some 45 tourists died in Pattaya last year under 'unexplained' circumstances. This year the 'The Pattaya Mail' has reported several more including a Pattaya Briton, who arrived with Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£15,000 and departed trusted up, his feet tied to a rock, and hanging from a pier in Sri Racha.
Thus if police reports and post mortems are to be believed an increasing number of tourists are coming to Pattaya to commit suicide, drink themselves to death, or die of a heart attack 'in flagrante'. But post mortems tend to reveal little more to enquiring relatives and Embassy officials than that the tourist's hearts had stopped.
A year ago Pattaya police investigating the death of British businessman Andrew Palmer arrested a young Cambodian boy the man was living with and announced that the boy had beaten him to death. Two weeks later, after questions by Embassy officials, they discovered Palmer had actually been shot. On closer inspection they found the bullet wound!
The Cambodian boy was released after naming another British man, Martin Gillman, as the killer. Mr. Gillman, an employee of a foreign owned Pattaya property consortium was arrested, but the police case officer, who ran a car dealership, offered no evidence when the case came to court in Chonburi.
The case is still under review at the Attorney General's office. The circumstances under which the dead man had befriended the boy in Cambodia and taken him from school to Thailand on an 'educational visa' and then kept him on the top floor of his shophouse for over a year as his 'adopted son' have yet to be explained. But Cambodian newspapers have highlighted the illegality of it all.
What the case did in fact highlight was that in the case of one murdered foreigner in Pattaya at least the investigation was little more than a game of roulette.
Foreign journalists sent to investigate farang criminals in Pattaya often finding them dining or drinking out with Pattaya policeman.
British fraudster and blackmailer and old Pattaya hand Michael Clarke, subsequently jailed last year in the Philippines for selling children to sex tourists was a master at courting the local police.
Clarke ran a number of scams in Thailand, some of which made the British press, wined and dined with police and even acquired his own uniform, which he used when he called on the rooms of tourists with a plain clothes Thai policeman, for his own version of a drugs, under age sex, or angry husband scam.
This year Pattaya has continued to make the headlines in newspapers abroad and on the Internet and there is little sign of a let up and its causing a gnashing of teeth.
German Federal police are also rounding up the final suspects of a murder over Christmas in Banglamuang, where three gay men, two Germans and an Austrian, hacked a rich German tourist to death with a spade and then decapitated his head.
The Pattaya Mail quoted quotes a Bangkok Federal policeman as saying it's the worst case he had ever experienced. 'It made me sick'.
The Thai people, residents of Pattaya, and hoteliers, are rightly dismayed at the publicity their city gets.
The unhappy distortion about Pattaya is that a high percentage of crimes involving foreigners are committed or commissioned by foreigners.
Thai crimes on tourists are in the main opportunistic, committed in high risk areas and they invariably happen to tourists who fail to follow some very basic rules.
Thailand remains one of the safest countries in the world for tourists and Thai people find it offensive and distressing when misfortune strikes guests in their own country.
The murder of British student Jo Masheder by a monk in Kanchanaburi last year provoked a public outcry and the killer was arrested within days and brought to trial within two months.
But a Scotsman who is pleading not guilty to the murder of his business partner in a Pattaya in 1992 is now in his fifth year of trial has sold all his belongings abroad to cover his costs.
But in the uneasy mix between East and West in Pattaya it's often difficult to know who are the cops and who are the robbers.