5 Billion Baht pyramid scheme topples
THE CRIMINAL COURT has sentenced Phudis Kittitharadilok to a jail term of 6,637 years on multiple embezzlement charges for a pyramid scheme involving more than 2,600 victims who were lured into pyramid money schemes that caused combined financial damage of Bt5.3 billion.
The court ruled that Phudis, director of The System Plug and Play Co and Innovation Holding Co, was guilty of violating the Criminal Code, fraudulent money scheme laws and anti-money-laundering laws on a total of 2,653 counts, each of which carries a jail term of 5 years, or a total jail term of 13,256 years.
Because the defendant had confessed to wrongdoing, the court reduced the jail term by half to 6,637 years, but the law permits a maximum punishment of only 20 years. In addition, the court imposed a combined fine of Bt663 million on Phudis and the two companies that lured innocent people into investing in bogus training and seminar programmes for various businesses. These programmes turned out to be part of the pyramid money schemes with no actual underlying business.
Initially, the companies would invite innocent people to join their training and seminar programmes for real estate, international trading and other topics while promising an attractive return on their investment in these programmes.
Participants were also encouraged to invite other persons to join, resulting in a widespread financial damage affecting a total of 2,656 persons who lost a combined Bt5.3 billion.
In addition, defendants also violated the anti-money laundering law by transferring ill-gotten funds into their accounts.
Samart Jenchaijitwanich, president of an anti-pyramid money scheme association, said there were as many as 40,000 victims but only about 2,600 filed charges against the wrongdoers. He expects more victims will come forward after the court’s verdict.
According to Samart, most victims feel the punishment is not sufficient since the law allows a maximum jail term of only 20 years on these charges. A criminal could repeat their wrongdoing after completing a jail term of that length.
He said there was no government agency directly responsible for preventing the spread of illegal pyramid schemes which usually lure innocent people to put their money into bogus schemes in return for attractive benefits during the initial period, after which all money is lost.
The Justice Ministry should introduce specific measures to prevent these bogus money schemes since police and other law enforcement actions are not tackling the root cause of this crime, Samart said.