BANGKOK - A Singaporean who was with a Taiwanese actress who claimed Thai police extorted money from them said officers told him to pay up or risk spending two days in jail for his vaping devices.
Those caught with such devices in Thailand face up to five years in prison and a hefty fine, according to Thai English-language daily The Nation, citing a lawyer.
The 29-year-old man, who identified himself as Sky, spoke to the media about the incident on Wednesday at the Davis Bangkok Hotel that is owned by whistle-blowing former politician and massage parlour owner Chuwit Kamolvisit, The Bangkok Post reported on the same day.
His appearance came a day after Thai police said they would travel to Singapore and Taiwan to interview witnesses in the case and would not charge the tourists with paying bribes.
The case was surfaced on social media by actress Charlene An, who said she had been threatened by Thai police with a criminal charge for having a vaping device or e-cigarette. She said she paid 27,000 baht (S$1,080) before she and her friends could leave.
While her accusations were initially questioned by Thai media and police, Mr Chuwit jumped to her defence on Monday, and charges have since been filed against the officers involved. The Thai police have also apologised for the incident.
A police investigation panel on Thursday charged six Bangkok police officers – two captains and four sergeants – with bribe-taking over the incident.
A seventh suspect was cleared as he was not present when the officers allegedly asked for the bribe.
Public officials found guilty of bribery can be punished with “imprisonment of five to 20 years or a fine of 2,000 to 40,000 baht”, according to The Nation.
Sky said he and three friends, including Ms An, had joined a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant in the Sukhumvit area on the night of Jan 3.
The Singaporean, the actress and a friend then took a Grab taxi to head for the Huai Khwang area, colloquially known as Bangkok’s new Chinatown.
At a police checkpoint in front of the Chinese embassy, the police stopped their taxi and asked for their passports. Sky did not have his passport on him, the Bangkok Post reported.
The police then ordered them to get out of the cab and take off their shoes.
They found vaping devices that the man had bought in Bangkok, and the group was told that they would have to go to a police station.
Sky said that he had three vaping devices on him, but Ms An had none.
Officers then seized the vaping devices, and policemen in uniforms demanded they pay money to avoid charges related to vaporisers and alleged failure to have a visa. Sky said that he had a visa on arrival.
The police told the group that they would be imprisoned for two days unless they made payment, according to Sky.
He then asked the policemen why vaping devices were illegal, because they were generally available in Thailand.
The police told him that he had to pay 8,000 baht per vaping device and 3,000 baht for failure to carry a passport.
“I was very stressed and wanted to get away quickly. I was afraid of the police and imprisonment. So, I gave them the 30,000 baht that I had then, and they took 27,000 baht,” Sky told media.
He said the officers did not allow the tourists to use their phones and kept threatening to take them to a police station, adding that he was also stressed because it is a serious crime to bribe the police in Singapore.
After receiving the money, officers called a taxi for his group.
Sky said he had bought vaping devices at a market in Huai Khwang without knowing they were illegal. He added that he saw them and understood that in the country the devices were legal, like cannabis.
The Bangkok Post reported that Sky said he would love to revisit Thailand in the future, but he admitted that he was afraid of Thai police and had already learnt the Thai word “thai”, meaning extortion.
In a Facebook post, Sky thanked Mr Chuwit for “standing side by side” with Ms An and his friends as the events unravelled under public scrutiny.
He wrote: “You, Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit, we will always treat you like a friend and a brother.”
The import and sale of e-cigarettes is banned in Thailand, and the possession of vaping devices is illegal.
Although the Thai police do not normally go after users of e-cigarette devices, they are legally required not to turn a blind eye once they spot someone having such a device.
The Singapore authorities also repeatedly warned that those caught using, buying or possessing such products in Singapore are liable to a fine of $2,000.
Harsher penalties are meted out to those who sell, possess for sale, import or distribute such items.
Those convicted can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to six months, with the maximum sentence doubled for repeat offenders.