32 elderly foreigners playing bridge nabbed by Thailand for gambling

BANGKOK (AFP) - A vow by Thailand's junta to rid the country of foreign criminals has netted an unlikely group of outlaws - elderly bridge players.

Police and military volunteers raided a bridge club on Wednesday (Feb 3) night in Pattaya, a resort town renowned for its go-go bars and links with organised crime, arresting 32 foreigners, most of them British.

"There were 32 people, all of them foreigners arrested for gambling on Wednesday night," Colonel Suthat Pumphanmuang, Pattaya police superintendent, told AFP on Thursday, saying the raid was sparked by a member of the public complaining to the junta's anti-corruption centre.

Almost all forms of gambling apart from the lottery and bets on some animal fighting is outlawed in Thailand, though underground betting is rampant.

"The chairman of the bridge club is arguing that they were not gambling (for money)," Col Suthat said.

He added that all but one of those arrested were freed on bail of 5,000 baht after 12 hours in custody. The final person was unable to pay bail and remains in jail.

Police said those arrested included 12 British nationals, three Norwegians, three Swedes, two Australians, a German, a Dane, a Canadian, a New Zealander and a Dutch and Irish national. The other nationalities were not made public.

A British Embassy spokesman said officials were in contact with the local authorities "following the arrest of several British nationals".

Jomtien and Pattaya Bridge Club, the target of the raid, is a venue popular with elderly foreign players that advertises publicly and meets three times a week above a restaurant.

Pattaya One, a local English-language newspaper, ran photographs of the raid showing groups of largely elderly foreigners gathered around tables holding playing cards as police looked on.

The paper said the club had been operating bridge nights since 1994.

Since seizing power in 2014, Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-o-Cha has vowed to crackdown on a raft of social ills including corruption and criminal networks, both foreign and domestic.

He has set up a corruption centre where members of the public can inform officials of alleged abuses or crimes.

The Immigration Bureau recently rolled out a new slogan: "Good guys in, bad guys out."

Pattaya has long had a reputation for being a haven both for foreign criminals and retirees.

In late November, an Australian former Hells Angels member was abducted from his apartment in broad daylight by foreign rivals. He was later found murdered and buried in a shallow grave outside the city.