Why is Thailand the land of fugitives? : The Nation

In its editorial on Aug 4, the paper argues that the arrest of two more fugitives shows foreign gangs operate in the country with impunity.

Foreign fugitives hiding in Thailand are arrested from time to time, mostly following tips-off from Interpol or in response to requests from their countries of origin.

Last week a Japanese lawyer wanted in connection with a multibillion yen stock fraud case back home was arrested in Bangkok and a Slovakian former hospital executive wanted for embezzlement was apprehended on Koh Samui.

While we have fugitives simply laying low in this country while hiding dark criminal pasts, there are many other foreign criminals who view Thailand as fresh turf with easy prey to victimise through thuggery or nefarious schemes.

We have financial con men, paedophiles, drug traffickers, and even terrorists.

Foreign observers have often described Thailand as a "haven" for criminals on the run from the law in their homelands, though senior police officials here fume at the characterisation, perhaps too readily.

Gangs of foreign criminals have adopted Thailand as their new base of operations.

A 2014 study by the Thailand Institute of Justice identified 22 separate gangs of foreigners involved in identity fraud, petty theft and burglary, among them Russians and Romanians skimming data from credit cards and Latin American bank robbers.

Thailand thrives on tourism, of course, but its open-arms policy of welcoming as many visitors as possible makes it too easy for criminals to enter the country.

Citizens of a long list of nations can get visas on arrival, no questions asked. Thus they can stay here for up to 90 days, and there is little for them to fear if they stay longer than allowed.

In the matter of foreigners getting away with criminal activities here, much of the blame, as ever, falls on corrupt police officers.

The smartest of the criminals use bribes to forge friendly relations with local officials, particularly the police, so they can continue operating unimpeded and remain "undetected" while in Thailand. Their palms amply greased, police and immigration officials turn a blind eye to their wrongdoings.

Police have even been accused of helping criminals and gangs rig false charges against their local rivals and anyone who dares shed light on their despicable doings.

British investigative journalist Andrew Drummond publicly alleged that Thai police were assisting foreign criminals in this way.

For his courage, he was forced to leave Thailand after two decades' residency when the criminals threatened him and his family with injury or worse and the police refused to intervene.

Drummond claimed his safety was under threat from "foreign criminals in Thailand working in liaison with the Thai police". He said the threat came from "a group of people who have killed with impunity before, and have even had police set up people on false charges".

The problem of foreign criminals pursuing their evil ways in Thailand is not going to go away until there are full and effective screening measures at immigration.

Officials at the airports and borders constitute our first line of defence against alien criminality taking firmer root here, and they must be able to determine whether incoming tourists have any criminal background and whether they're now on the run.

They need to be able to spot a fake passport and, when one is found, not just block that visitor outright but arrest him on the spot. Immigration officials have to work more closely with Interpol so they can track and anticipate the arrival of foreign fugitives.

Police superintendents, meanwhile, should make sure no foreign criminals go undetected as a result of collusion with their subordinates. No amount of bribery should be allowed to grant the criminals and gangsters protection from the law.

Finally, if asking the police force to shed its habit of corruption sounds like casting wishes to the wind, then that's just one more reason for the force to be subjected to stringent reform.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.