The Bangkok Post
March 9, 2008
By Wassayos Ngamkham
A comprehensive network of communications, transport facilities and hospitality have made Thailand a sanctuary for the world’s criminals and other fugitives, said police.
Panaspong Sirawongse, the head of Interpol’s Liaison Office Bangkok, said foreign criminals pick Thailand as a hide-out or a venue to negotiate illegal deals apparently because the country is a hub of communications and transport.
Also, Thailand is a world tourist destination where fugitives from crime can easily slip in and mingle with foreign tourists, he said.
“I believe they chose us because it is convenient for them to make contacts here,” Pol Col Panaspong said.
He referred to the latest arrest involving Russian Viktor Bout, 41, dubbed the ”Merchant of Death”, on Thursday at a Bangkok hotel. The fugitive was wanted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly selling arms to terrorists.
REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)
Before that, Thailand was also in the spotlight for the much-publicised arrest of Nurjaman Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, in Ayutthaya in 2003. Hambali was suspected of being Southeast Asian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)’s operations chief and the architect of the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
His capture, according to a recent US report on terrorism, suggested that Thailand was a transit point for regional terrorists.
Following Hambali’s arrest, a number of other wanted fugitive criminals have been apprehended in the kingdom. They include Christopher Paul Neil, 32, who was arrested days after Interpol issued an unprecedented worldwide public appeal for help in identifying the suspected paedophile.
In mid-February, Morgan Michelle Hoke, 21, known as the ”ponytail bandit”, was arrested at a guesthouse in the Bang Lamphu area. She was wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a series of armed bank robberies.
Crime Suppression Division (CSD) deputy chief Petcharat Saengchai agreed with Pol Col Panaspong that communications and transport facilities are among the factors criminals consider before they choose to flee to Thailand.
Pol Col Petcharat, the head of the task force involved in the arrest of Mr Bout, is chief of a new crime suppression division which has been specially set up to tackle international crimes.
He said Thai people’s friendliness and hospitality are also a drawcard.
“Thailand is their heaven. Thai people are also friendly so the criminals like Thailand, especially Bangkok, which is a large and complex city. It is an ideal hideout, even for local criminals,” he said.
CSD commander Pongpat Chayaphan agreed that the character traits of local people can be a double-edged sword.
“Thai people are kind and friendly. So the criminals feel at ease here,” he said.