A Tale Of Two Cities

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
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
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 (£10,000) baht to Pattaya police for his
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
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
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 £15,000 and departed
trusted up, his feet tied to a rock, and hanging from a pier in Sri
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.