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la 28th June 2009 12:36 PM

welcometo thailand, kidnapped by officials at airport, scary stuff
British couple fights Bangkok airport extortionists
Two tourists were held by an airport gang until they paid up £8,000

A British couple who were falsely accused of shoplifting in Bangkok airport and were forced to pay £8,000 in bribes to secure their release are to take legal action for compensation.

They were the victims of an extortion racket that has ensnared other foreign travellers at the airport, which handles most of the 800,000 British visitors to Thailand every year.

Stephen Ingram, 49, and Xi Lin, 45, both technology professionals from Cambridge, were detained by security guards as they went to board Qantas flight QF1 to London on the night of Saturday, April 25.

They were accused of taking a Givenchy wallet worth £121 from a King Power duty-free shop and were handed over to the police. An official release order from the local Thai prosecutor’s office subsequently conceded there was no evidence against them.

They were freed five days later after a frightening ordeal in which they said they were threatened and held against their will at a cheap motel on the airport perimeter until they had handed over the money.

The bribes were paid to an intermediary named Sunil “Tony” Rathnayaka, a Sri Lankan national in his fifties who works as a “volunteer” interpreter for Thailand’s tourist police (motto: “To serve and to protect”).

“Our main motivation is to protect other innocent British tourists from being caught up in this nightmare,” said Ingram last week. “We intend to take every legal means to recover our money and obtain justice.”

Last week Rathnayaka admitted in a telephone interview that he had received cash and money transfers amounting to more than £7,000 from the Britons. He said the money was for police bail and for a payment to a figure he called “Little Big Man” who could withdraw the case against them.

“In Thailand everyone knows it’s like that,” he said. “They can go to jail or they can just pay a fine and go home. It is corruption, you know?”

Rathnayaka also agreed that the “bail” — about £4,000 — was never returned to Ingram and Xi. Thai law says bail should be refunded.

In a detailed statement the couple said they were first detained at an airport office of the tourist police and later taken to cells at a police station in an isolated modern building on the fringes of the airport.

Rathnayaka confirmed that he met them in the cells on the morning of Sunday, April 26, and arranged the “bail”. The police kept the couple’s passports. Rathnayaka then escorted Ingram and Xi to the Valentine Resort, a lurid pink motel a few hundred yards from the runways. They were to remain there for four days.

During that time, Rathnayaka warned them not to tell anyone about their plight, especially the British embassy, lawyers, friends, family or the press.

However, on April 27 they sneaked out of the hotel and found their way to the embassy, where they met Kate Dufall, the pro-consul.

According to the couple, she told them the embassy could not interfere with the Thai legal system and put them in contact with Prachaya Vijitpokin, a lawyer.

Vijitpokin and a colleague, Kittamert Engchountada, of the Lawyers Association of Thailand, urged them to stay in the country to fight the case and have since assembled a dossier for potential prosecutions.

However, Ingram said the couple were so terrified by this stage that they decided to meet the demands for money, which they raised by bank transfers from Britain direct to Rathnayaka’s account. The Sunday Times has copies of the transactions.

Ingram and Xi were put on a British Airways flight to London early on Friday, May 1, having received their passports with official documents from prosecutors and police stating that no charges were to be brought against them.

They have said they are willing to return to Thailand and testify to try to stop the extortion if the government will guarantee their safety.

That could become a priority for Thailand, which has suffered a series of blows to its tourist industry through economic and political upheaval.

Inquiries last week established that Rathnayaka and his accomplices have continued preying on tourists who end up in police custody after being accused of theft from the airport duty-free shop. “I am just helping people,” he explained. “I don’t get paid to do this. All the embassies know me.”

Officials at the Danish embassy confirmed that a Danish woman fell into Rathnayaka’s hands about two weeks ago and was allowed to leave Thailand only after handing over more than £4,500.

When a Sunday Times journalist posing as a businessman in trouble contacted Rathnayaka last week, the first thing he said was: “If it’s a case, for example, of shoplifting at the airport duty-free then I can help. Bail is 100,000 baht (£1,800).” He later declined an interview, saying the Sri Lanka embassy — which employs him as an interpreter — had told him not to speak.

The Foreign Office said consular officials had offered to raise the case with the Thai authorities at the time but had been asked by the couple not to intervene.

A spokesman for King Power duty-free said the company had strict rules for evidence to be submitted to the police in shoplifting cases, but added: “We cannot control what happens after that.”

British couple fights Bangkok airport extortionists - Times Online

markaa 28th June 2009 02:24 PM

Thailand becomes Indonesia
My God, Thailand is as bad as Indonesia. I never thought I would see the day, but recently with all the reports regarding the Australian bar in Phuket, the treatment of foreign residents married to Thais et all, I believe you have to currently think twice about going to Thailand, and if you do, stay away from their duty free shops (all "King Duty Free" owned by the same guy and very overrated / overpriced) - best transit through Singapore which has excellent duty free if you are able.

BobMac 28th June 2009 04:01 PM

So it's finally come to the point where the best advice we "advice givers" on this Thailand Travel Forum can honestly give is do not go to Thailand.

sabailand 28th June 2009 06:59 PM

They are snakes for sure.
Basically thanks for that. I mean people should know how bad Thailand actually is. I have seen the bribe process in action here first hand where a hand comes from the back of a captain and an envelope with cash is given.
Once they got you your at their mercy. Thailand is a crummy country for this type of thing. Were not apretiated here and taken care of it's all front with the unlining reality. Were being turned over daily.

Bad show Thailand. Shame on you.

la 28th June 2009 07:03 PM

that is kind of sad. well for yanks, it's a long way, 5 days travel time if going out of bkk, well from east coast of usa, and way too expensive for airfare. unless on long holiday, which not many yanks get. too much right in home country to see, or couple hours away at decent prices for couple weeks relaxing in real mountains or beaches. and so much so close, such as caribbean/mexico vacation spots.

euros, not sure, much closer and easier to get to, and you all get better vacation time, same with aussies, i believe. southern europe must be a bit expensive, as a local option for warmer weather and beaches.

i, a yank, came here on a fluke, with no knowledge or research prior to coming as it had to be a split second decision. after living here, discovered the negatives. still not outweighing the positives for me, but as a tourist or thinking about retirement now, i possibly wouldn't be here, definitely not as a tourist, from the states. but retired and settled down, so hard to just leave.

usa and world wide having major problems, same everywhere, but some of the scams here, are not heard of in usa or surely europe. but this isn't a country where those that are here to protect and serve, take that to seriously. sure a large percentage of those that do serve, or simply avoid being scammers, but the minority sure does taint the rest and give a bad rep to the country. and we are not even talking about crime from the stereotype criminal. most unreported, just these high profile cases make the news, and not thai news, unless already reported in another country.

if caught up in one of the scams such as the airport, it can be life altering. that's some scary stuff. worst i ever thought about, is planted drugs and a bribe request, now some of the stuff you read about is damn scary.

the obvious openess and lack of anyone in power to do anything about it is the big concern. the embassies are helpless, until someone is charged, then only after convicted, possibly get you back to a civilized prison term, oh joy.

since the laws make it hard to convict anyone, since you personally have to file charges and return till case resolved, which could take years, and lots of money, who would press charges. this they know and take advantage of.

unless well travelled and big city wits and lots of research, i wouldn't recommend it as a tourist destination. simply walking thru the airport is dangerous. all those there to protect you are the ones involved in the scam. what chance do you have.

you can scream, but nobody is there to hear you................damn scary.

David Wenman 4th July 2009 01:55 PM

Police corruption
In our case we are being "asked" for 500,000 baht by the police and land office in Trang province. We built an English language school on Sukorn Island with our own money. We were teaching over 100 students (for free). But, the corrupt officials wanted their share. They know we paid 2.7 million baht for a lease so they blocked the registration of the lease with the corrupt land office.

This all happened about 18 months ago and we are still fighting.

David Wenman
Chiang Mai

markaa 4th July 2009 04:29 PM

Jeez David
I have no reason to doubt you having just done a quick Google search on your name. Thailand is or has become as bad as Indonesia in many nasty respects by all accounts. Even though they shoot their own country in the foot, these people can not see past their blind greed. The problem for me now is I no longer, after recent months reports, wish to ultimately support such corruption. Although I very much like the Thais and also the Balinese people, I have ended up despising elements of the authorities that promoting travel to these countries obviously supports. I was not happy about the political situation in Thailand of recent months as in "Where are these Thais votes", but the human rights abuse against boat people from Myanmar and Muslims in the south of Thailand, plus the recent apparent increases in foreigner abuse leave me cold. Apart from the fact travelling to SE Asia is difficult for me these days with a young family and all, I no longer dream of visiting Indonesia or Thailand any more :-( so I have decided to make some changes and soon.

shanek 4th July 2009 11:27 PM

A report from KingPower about the alleged incident...King Power International Co., Ltd.

shanek 5th July 2009 01:20 AM

New evidence released in alleged bangkok airport "scam"
In light of the bad publicity that Bangkok Airport security staff and King Power Duty Free have received, I thought it was important to balance this story with King Power's response.

It still does not explain what happened after this couple were detained, but it certainly shows that their arrest was justified.

King Power International Co., Ltd.

One would hope that the British press will publish this new evidence as their treatment of the story to date has been very one sided.

markaa 5th July 2009 05:42 AM

Wow and Hmmm
The security TV footage is very convincing but was it them? King Power say their staff had facial recognition from the TV footage but they did not of the female suspect from what I could see, just the top of her head. The staff did not witness the theft but instead noticed the purse was missing and then alerted security who examined the CCTV recording. When they found who they thought were the couple, they say they were wearing different clothes! Then they say the man went to the toilet and the purse was found in the litter bin so as to say he realized they were being followed and that he had the purse, not her? OK, I accept their are some weird people feigning respectable citizens in the world, more than possibly we can imagine, but something does not seem right to me. I guess my questions are; a) the guy in the CCTV footage is clearly identifiable - is it the British tourist? and b) is the CCTV date and time stamped so as to be able to determine if it is genuine?

Maybe I am wrong, but for two supposedly respectable travellers to plan the theft of a purse, then change clothes, then switch who has the purse; OK, maybe it is possible! I understand some people steel for the thrill / sake of it (weirdos). Maybe this was like the Great Train Robbery for them and they went through this entire elaborate process after. So is the guy in the video the British tourist? If anyone finds substantive response to that anyway, I'm hooked, let me know!

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