One day in Bangkok: Nine tourists/1,204,320 baht scammed/police refuse to help - October 17, 2002
[This article mentions: Charlermthai, Christie's Lapidary, Oscar, Orchid, and the goldsmith Hang Thong Thong Bai/Ranghang Thong Thong Bai]
Myself and a friend, like a great number of other tourists every day, were involved in a Gem Scam in Bangkok. And even though the story starts of very similar as many others I would still like to point out a few things I have found out along the way - both two other victims as well as to some official institution. I will go quite into detail to disclose this very well organized crime.
Coming from southern Thailand we arrived in Bangkok on the 17.10.2002. On our second day in Bangkok we left the hotel in Banglamphu at about 10.30. After about ten minutes we were approached by a 'Thai student' who tried to get us involved into a conversation: Where we were from, how long already in Bangkok, have we not seen on the news last night it is a Buddhist holiday.She disappeared very quickly. Five minutes later a second 'Thai student' approached us: where we were from, since when in Bangkok, staying until when, which sights we have already seen in Bangkok, have we not heard it is a Buddhist holiday. today and the Tuk Tuk drivers will take us for three hours to any Temple we wish to see. She marked on the map where we would have to go, called a Tuk Tuk (only white license plate ones where part of this government promotion during which, as it was supposedly a government holiday, the gasoline was subsidized by the government - hence making the ride extremely cheap - a right bargain!) At the second Wat the.... we were approached by an American (tall, dark blond hair, clean cut student appearance, supposedly from California) and a Thai (medium size, excellent English). They also involved us into a conversation. Where from, what we have seen so far, where we will go next. We mentioned we were from Germany so the Thai explains some of his friend have studied in Darmstadt financed by selling jewelry in Germany - surprise in Frankfurt supposedly at Wempe and Christ (some of the biggest jewelry chains in Germany). The American confirms, pulls out a receipt from Charlermthai - the so called export center, supposedly a government enterprise. Supposedly he himself has financed his travels by selling jewelry for the last three years, having sold of his purchases in the States always for a 100 -120 % - easily done as according to him the government usually charges 195 % export charge on all jewelry and the 'Export Center' would even mail it insured to Germany so one would not have to carry the valuable purchase around. But according to the two, there was a one week promotion (and of course it was the last day - at it is always the last day - any day of the week) today which allowed students and poor back packers to purchase a limited number of stones (five) and be exempted from the export tax. The American gave us the name, explained the Tuk Tuk driver would know where to find this - after all it was supposedly a government institution and very famous - as every export center. We saw no harm in checking out the place - and we were taken there immediately by our driver (even though it was in a very small side street and the three times I went back there every taxi driver had great problems in finding the place).
We arrived at Charlermthai, were taken into a dark room, told by the manager (who was called Peter by the staff): it was a promotion week, we could by a set of five stones, Blue Saffire standard triple A - export quality, we would be exempted by the export tax of 195%, therefore resell them at a minimum of 100% (guaranteed!), we would receive 20% discount if we pay cash, we would get a list of all the main jewelry shops in Germany and in the impossible circumstance, we would not be able to resell them we could take them back to the Thai export center of which the government has established one in every country. The jewelry would also be send of by post insured by the Thai export center.
Further we were explained the shop would not have a credit card machine and we would therefore have to go to a bank. By car we were taken to a exchange place where on could draw out money by credit card, accompanied by a Thai girl and her driver. Along the way she did not rest one minute from talking to us - repeating the entire story which has been told to us during the
previous 2 hours, and even adding more details to it (different stories about Thai friends who studied in Germany financing there studies with the selling of gems) We reached the cash machine, my friend withdrew 40.000 bath (about $ 1000) and myself I withdrew 42.000 - the limits of our cards. The Thai girl encouraged us to take out more money and for that reason we were driven over to a Goldsmith called Hang Thong Thong Bai. On the way she explained that she has been working with this shop a long time, we would pay by credit card there and the money would be transferred over to the account of Charlermthai. In the meantime we would given the equivalent of the value of our payment in gold which would than be taken back to the Goldsmith. We arrived at the shop, the Thai girl greeted the known staff (the owner, his wife, and two further female staff assistance), moved around the entire shop, called for us the bank with the telephone from the shop, and prepared the transaction and than told the owner of the Goldsmith, Mr Suvit, how much money me would be withdrawing from our accounts. The transaction was done, we were told where to sight the paper. A photo copy of our passport was taken, we were given a copy and shown two other documents of other tourist who have done the same transaction in the morning of the same day as proof and reassurance of the legitimacy of the whole business. We were than taken back to Chalermtai, the jewelry shop. At the shop we were
kept busy signing numerous papers, the assistants moved around a lot, the 'manager' did some quick calculations to tell us the value of our purchase, the stones were placed in an envelope, we had to sign across the envelope in order to seal it. We were told the entire story again, ensured that were were really lucky as the shop had already officially closed and the promotion
was over for this year but be would become members of the government owned shop and therefore allowed to participate in next years promotion.
By than it was about 3.30pm. We were explained as we were so lucky we would now be invited to a meal and a tour to the market and late at night to a Thai massage accompanied by another Thai girl called Jennifer. We were kept busy all afternoon, told the whole story again and finally left at the Thai massage which we left at about 8.30 - 10 hours after the scam began. We did have doubts. Many things seemed a bit odd but the great number of people involved and the outstanding friendliness along with the fact that an American approach us as well (who surely would not lie to young backpackers) we some how bought the story. My friend had to leave Bangkok the next day. I took her to the airport and decided to go back to Chalermthai the next day to clarify some questions which have come up over night. I arrived the at the shop, Jennifer. the girl who accompanied us in the afternoon was standing outside the shop, saw me and disappeared The whole shop was quite dark, I was straight taken upstairs into a separate room and told by somebody I had not seen before, the manager was not in today and I would have to come back the next day, or much better phone.
I had bought a bus ticket to north of Thailand for the night and still went thinking I would come back in a few days and clarify the uncertain things. Before getting on the bus started some research in the internet. By mid day on Monday - I had worked out we had been victims of a very organized crime:
- there was no Buddhist holiday
- there was no government promotion subsidizing the Tuk Tuk drivers gasoline
- there was no government promotion for Thai students (in fact there is no government promotion what so ever)
- there is not export tax (in fact it is the opposite - jewelry is explicitly exempted by the government in order to promote the export and paid VAT can be reclaimed)
- there is no government Export Center (in fact almost every jewelry shop involved in scams calls itself Export Center)
- no jewelry chain will buy back the purchase (my friend phoned up several stores in Germany) - let alone at a 200% of the price we had paid
- a triple A standard does not exist internationally for Sapphires
Both my friend and I phoned up Visa straight away explaining we have been victims of severe fraud in Asia and tried to cancel the transaction. We were explained this would not be possible as the transaction was authorized already but as fraud was so common in Asia we would be able to have the case investigated and very likely be able to recover at least the amount of money we had paid at the gold shop.
I was on the next plane back to Bangkok arriving at the police station at 11.00 am. After explaining my case, very low interest was the response. I was told not much could be done. I was still allowed to file a report which was handwritten by me in English, translated into Thai and than handwritten into a police report which I was explained later, would just be filed away
with no further action. I tried to insists to be given a police officer to accompany me to the shop and try to recover my money. I was refused! No support what so every was given by the police. The situation was very frustration. I began talking to other people at the Tourist Police. Quickly I met an American girl how had been a victim of the same type of fraud but with a different Jewelry Shop (Christie's Lapidary - previously called Universal - along the next four days I meet about 12 more people who had been scammed by this shop also, several other victims had lost their money with Oscar and Orchid). The American girl and two Canadians offered to come along with me and support me at the shop. When we reached the address I realized the shop had closed in the meantime - three days after our purchase.
As I had taken out another 10.000 bath at a cash machine next to the Goldsmith Hang Thong Thong Bai I was able to reconstruct the address. We went over there and the American girl immediately realized that it was the same shop her credit card was misused despite the fact that on her credit card receipt she shop was called Ranghang Thong Thong Bai. Completely taken
by surprise we marched in with four people, took pictures of the whole place including the staff. The situation got little out of hand and we demanded the police to come in. Four officers filled the the gold shop, luckily one of the Canadians spoke a little bit Thai. We voiced our accusations, explained we believe serious fraud was being done and the gold shop was used a a way
to launder money working with the two Jewelry Shops Chalermthai and Christie's Lapidary. We demanded an explanation as of why on our credit card receipts two different names appeared. Mr Suvit presented us with two credit card machines with different names (we were not shown if any more credit card machines were in use).
The police took us and Mr Suvit to the local police. We were followed by his wife and one of the shop assistant (in a new blue VW) to the police station and after about half an our due to difficult communication, transferred to the Tourist Police in Banglamphu. Mr Suvit, the American girl and myself were presented to the police officer Mr Sakkarin. We voiced our serious
concern of fraud and demanded the contact details of the jewelry shops. First Mr Suvit denied his connection but his lies were so evident that Officer Sakkarin explained he did not believe what he was saying and demanded Mr Suvits ID card. After about an hour of argument we came to the agreement that Mr Suvit would help negotiate in the case of the American girl (her
shop was still open at that time) and in my case Mr Suvit would contact the shop owner over night to make an arrangement (by than he had admitted his connection to the shop Chalermthai) and we would meet up without the police at the Goldsmith the next day at noon to settle an agreement.
Shops trying to protect themselves -- this document appears to be an attempt by the stores to blame "tour operators" for cheating the tourists brought to the shop.
When we arrived the next day Mr Suvits wife had called in a friend who spoke English and would act as a translator. Mr Suvit refused every cooperation and only when we pressured him by explaining we would publish the photos we had, he spoke to a contact at Chalermthai but refused to show the details but instead gave me a false mobile number which did not work. (the Thai
friend translated the whole conversation - he did not know about the entire and crime and in the following days proved to be much support and assistance). I phoned up the police again, explained the situation. Mr Sakkarin now insisted we should return to the Wat were I had met the American and try to obtain the new jewelry address details from the American ( I was explained to by the police they would always re-open at a different location, and that the American would work there every day). I asked Mr Sakkarin to send an officer along but he refused.
So I ended up going with Mr Suvit and the Thai friend who translated for us to the Wat (the American girl was ordered to meet up with the manager from Christ Lapidary for negotiations at the police office). The American was there, tried to hide behind a bus as soon as he saw me. I grabbed him, tried to take a picture but was violently pushed aside and he ran of. (he was much stronger and taller than me and no support was given by the other two men).
I asked to go back to the Tourist Police but Mr Suvit refused and instead sent the Thai translator. with me. After arriving at the police I explained what had happened. Mr Sakkarin explained he had his day of an would maybe note down my details the next day. I was not happy and voiced this to the Thai translator. He seemingly was quite upset about this situation and phoned up a friend who was Secretary somewhere in the internal affairs ministry. This person got in contact with Mr Pol.LT.COl. Ekkarach Limsunggkas Head of the police department at Banglamphu. All of a sudden Officer Sakkarin did have time for me. I pressed charges against Mr Suvit, the manager of the jewelry shop, the two Thai girls who worked at the jewelry shop (the one who took us to the gold shop in the morning and the other one who took us around in the afternoon), the American and the Thai who we had met at the Wat. I had to give full descriptions of every person
and what had happened. After several hours I was done and I was explained the report would go to the court and only if the court allowed the police to arrest Mr Suvit they were able to do so. Further investigation would be taken the next day. I met up with Mr Sakkarin the following day (now Thursday the 21.10.2022) at 11.00 am. We went to the Wat in order to find the American. I voiced concerns as I was convinced he would not be there as we showing up the day before must have been a clear warning to him. We went anyway - he was not there.
The ID card of Mr Suvit, "manager" of Hang Thong Thong Bai gold shop, one of the best protected shops in the gem scam racket
I went back to the Tourist Police and sat all day in there waiting and pressuring to have something happen. Most of that day I spent with Mr Pol.LT. Col. Ekkarach Limsunggkas. I went into his office several times asking about the progress in my case, every time interrupting him reading the newspaper. I asked if Charlermthai did not have previous problems. He admitted several cases had been filled with this shop at least about ten (not bad considering the shop only operated under this name for about a month - it was previously called Mahachai - all this information is displayed in the Internet). I demanded them to look through the files and find out who had been the representative filing the negotiations in the last cases. They only looked at the first file and identified the representative. I than suggested to look up the address and pay that person a visit. Looking up the address took the rest of the day; I was never given the details and the police refused to go there with me.
The American girl had in the meantime discovered an Internet page http://www.angkor.com/2bangkok/Scams/Sapphire.shtml and we soon learned that this crime was incredibly well organized and claims several thousand victims every year. This fraud had been around Thailand for now well over a decade and despite the devastating impact on Thailand's most important revenue - the
tourist industry, and persistent pressure of international embassies, little effort has been made to crack down this crime. Many scammed tourist had voiced in their reports the suspicion that the police would be deeply involved in all of this and that corruption seemed to be dominating the scene. During the course of my the last week in Thailand this became obvious to me and many other tourists I had meet also and even one of the translators working at the Tourist Police declared this to be the true.
Realizing that little help could be expected from the police the American girl and myself went to the Internal Trade Department which was supposedly set up the Government to help scammed tourists with their negotiation with the jewelry shops. We meet up with Mr Suchat Sinrat, told our story and were explained that only something could be done if we had the jewels in our
hand which was not the case as the jewelry shops sent them of by post straight after the purchase. Disillusioned we went to ITV (one of the main television stations in Thailand) to meet up with a reporter who had done a report with undercover cameras, which was shown on television disclosing the whole depth of this crime a couple of month before. He told that us unfortunately even this had little impact as the government was not much interested to change the situation.
In the evening the American girl once again phoned up Visa Card to explain our investigation and to see if anything else could be done regarding the transaction. She was told the request was actually taken of her account when the Goldshop tried to claim the money as this account had been flagged and corruption seemed obvious at the investigations department. This was confirmed on Saturday morning when she phoned again to make sure this had really been the case.
We went back to the police station, accompanied by some more victims we had met in the course of the previous days, the video tape which had been given to us by the reporter showing his previous investigation, a copy of Mr Suvist ID card which I had photo copied along with my entire file the previous day at the police station, a number of pictures we had taken of the accused people. We had little impact. In the morning we met about another 8 people at the police station and by than were about 12 to 15 victims. I advised several people to try to press charges not only against the jewelry shops but also against the Goldsmith involved. Despite the fact that filing a report was possible and that the police did let the tourist accuse the jewelry shops of having committed a criminal offense we did encounter incredible resistance to press charges against the the goldsmiths. They simply refused to take our statement. Officer Sakkarin explained that first my case would have go to court and only afterwards somebody else could press charges against Mr Suvit. As this were completely independent cases we refused to accept this explanation as it seemed by no possible law a reasonable explanation. The argument was quite severe and involved a numberof tourist and about half of the force at the police station. Only when I called a Thai friend who discussed the issue with Officer Sakkarin for several minutes the American girl was finally allowed to press charges - by than we had been at the police station for about 5 hours. The other people were not allowed to press charges or even include this concern about the gold shops in their statement.
In the evening we gathered all tourists of that day together. Between nine people we had lost 1.204.320 bath (about $ 30.000). In five of the cases the Goldsmith Hang Thong Thong Bai/ Ranghang Thong Thong Bai was involved. We exchanged all our details and receipts in order to file our reports.