Police arrest Thai people-smuggling kingpin and 42 cronies
By Peter Alford for the Australian Newspaper on 22 May 2015,
Thai police investigating a people-trafficking racket centred in Satun have arrested 43 people and seized millions of dollars worth of assets linked to alleged kingpin Pajjuban Angchotipon.
In neighbouring Hat Yai yesterday, police paraded Pajjuban’s cousin, Posia Angchotipon, president of the Koh Lipe tourism association, along with eight other men who surrendered or were arrested on Wednesday.
Posia operates a resort on Koh Lipe, the island close to the Malaysian border, where a boatload of 400 Rohingyas and Bengalis from Bangladesh was found last week. The navy pushed the boat off towards Indonesia, where it was rescued off Aceh early on Wednesday.
Posia is a member of the Angchotipon clan that dominates the business life of Satun and, police allege, the trafficking racket that received thousands of illegal migrant workers from Bangladesh and Myanmar and transferred them under brutal conditions into Malaysian black-labour markets.
The crackdown on the people-smuggling network in Thailand, usually the first stop en route to Malaysia, has meant at least three ships loaded with hundreds of Rohingya and impoverished Bangladeshis have returned to Myanmar.
Roshida, a 25-year-old widow released from a human-trafficking ship just off the Thai coast, has returned to a refugee camp outside Sittwe, in Myanmar. She left her camp, Say Tha Mar Gyi, three months ago to board the ship with her two young sons and a nine-month old daughter. “To go there — and then to come back — I sold everything: my camp food rations and my house. I have nothing,” Roshida told Reuters.
Others who came back said the crews beat them with metal rods and engine chains when they asked for more food. Many were starving, surviving on three cups of water and two handfuls of rice a day for up to three months. It is not known which smuggling network was responsible for Roshida’s boat.
Thai kingpin Pajjuban, 54, surrendered to national police headquarters in Bangkok on Wednesday, after a week on the run. The former provincial administrator denies all allegations. Known locally as Ko (Big Brother) Teong, he faces three provisional charges so far: conspiracy to traffic humans, assisting illegal migrants and unlawful detention of people for ransom. A woman police allege is his wife, Tatsanee Suwanarat, is in custody, although her relatives deny a relationship with the man.
Police and Thailand’s anti-money-laundering agency have seized or frozen more than 100 million baht ($3.7m) of assets in Satun and neighbouring Songkhla province. The hoard to date includes a resort hotel and various other properties, five vessels including a 40m luxury launch, a Mercedes and other vehicles, firearms and ammunition.
For more information and updates about Thailand’s policies and actions against trafficking in persons and related issues, visit www.thaianti-humantraffickingaction.org