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Crackdown fails to stop airport gangs


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Crackdown fails to stop airport gangs




Published: 6/09/2009 at 12:00 AM

Newspaper section: News


Despite the government's recent campaign to keep the international gateway to Thailand clear of thugs and cheats, it seems to be business as usual for illegal taxi operators and tour guides at Suvarnabhumi airport.


WELCOME TO THAILAND: A group of tourists is given the hard sell at Suvarnabhumi on Saturday. The airport’s image has been tarnished by accusations of illegal operators taking advantage of travellers.


The Airports of Thailand (AoT) Plc recently reported to the cabinet that more than 600 people had been caught at the airport in the past two months for various offences.


In the past two months, 395 unlicensed taxi drivers and 210 illegal tour guides who exploited travellers at Suvarnabhumi airport have been arrested after a campaign was launched to crack down on crime at the airport, the AoT reported to cabinet last week.


However, airport authorities with a trained eye still see unauthorised taxi operators and tour guides preying on victims, but claim they get intimidated when they approach these people, who then claim they have connections in high places.


"Often these people claim they know AoT executives to scare away authorities and keep their businesses going. Some just say bluntly that they need money to pass on to their bosses, which is understood to mean AoT executives," said one inside source.


The source added that there are more than 20 powerful groups operating in the airport which come under the command of major gangs - Kamnan Samruay, Boonruang Srisang, Sak Pakphanang and Pirap.


The Kamnan Samruay camp used to operate at Don Mueang airport, where they provided underground foreign exchange services.


At the new airport, the gang has extended its business to cover ticketing and illegal taxi and tour guide services. It also collects "protection fees" from smaller gangs.


The Boonruang Srisang gang also runs an illegal taxi and tour guide service network. It has a small number of members and is independent.


The Sak Pakphanang gang is a break-away from the Boonruang Srisang gang, while the Pirap group is believed to have strong connections as its leader has the same last name as an AoT executive.


There are also two prominent groups known as the Pattaya Mafia gang and the Phuyai Daeng gang. The Pattaya Mafia gang, whose leaders are known as Steve and Montri and who are neatly dressed and can easily pass as passengers, is stationed on the fourth floor of the passenger terminal. The Phuyai Daeng gang, with good connections with influential figures in Samut Prakan, works more like a lobbyist for fraudsters who want to gain entry to the airport.


According to the source, unauthorised tour guides are engaged in various scams ranging from providing transportation and accommodation to selling air tickets. "Some even 'steal' the tourists from the TAT [Tourism Authority of Thailand] information counter. They feed the tourists information and then press on with hard sales," said the source.


The illegal tour guides hang around the arrivals hall and approach foreign passengers. They introduce themselves as airport workers and lead tourists to illegal taxi queues when a deal is made."They are scattered on every floor in the terminal and stay among passengers and officials. It is hard to pick them out from the crowd because they are well dressed," the source said, adding the gangs have carved the airport into zones.


AoT president Serirat Prasutanond conceded that there are some criminal gangs operating in the airport, but said the AoT has stepped up efforts to crack down on unlicensed taxi drivers and tour guides.


One measure has been to transfer some officials who were thought to be involved with the gangs. A reshuffle of officials will be made this month, he said. Mr Serirat said the AoT will spend 15 million baht starting on Oct 1 to try and end the illegal operations.



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