Claims of widespread extortion racket at Bangkok market

SOME OF THE 500 VENDORS at Bangkok’s Donmuang Modern Market claim they have been paying between Bt500 and Bt10,000 a month for police protection because some of the products they are selling are illegal.

Tourist Police Bureau deputy head Maj-General Surachet Hakpan yesterday said his officers were looking into the allegations. A vendor who asked not to be named said that besides paying rent for her premises, she also paid “protection money” so the authorities would turn a blind eye to her business. She refused to name the people she paid out of concern for her safety. “Reporters get information and are gone, police guard the place for up to 30 days and are gone but we vendors are still here,” she said.
“Where in Thailand are vendors not asked for protection money? You tell me,” she said. Another vendor, who also asked not to be identified, said those who had signed a direct rental contact with the market landlords paid between Bt500 and Bt3,000 a month in protection money, while several people who rented buildings with the Treasury Department paid tens of thousand of baht. The second vendor also refused to say who demanded the protection money. Surachet yesterday attended a meeting with representatives of the Treasury Department, the Revenue Department and the Anti-Money Laundering Office to discuss wrongdoing at the market, the charges to be filed and those likely to be charged. He said police would launch legal action against vendors linked to the 300,000 products seized in five recent raids and against Donmuang Pattana Company for modifying buildings without permission and for encroaching on Prem Prachakorn Canal. This latter offence might also lead to a money-laundering charge, Surachet added. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha challenged Pol Lt-Colonel Santhana Prayoonrat, former deputy superintendent at the Special Branch Police Division who now serves as the market-operating firm’s adviser, to reveal a “multi-million-worth conflict of interest” that allegedly involved a military officer in the government. Prayut said the disclosure would allow the accused to tell his side of story and he warned that Santhana would be held accountable if the accusation was untrue. Santhana claimed he had information and this was the reason behind the recent raids, although police said they were part of an ongoing crackdown on illegal cosmetics. Meanwhile, Channel 3 drama actress Virakarn “Maprang” Seneetantikul, 29, whose “Be Curve” food supplement product was allegedly using exaggerated ads and being sold via a “pyramid scheme”, told police that she had not broken any law. Virakarn said a private company had tested the product and confirmed it was safe and did not contain any banned ingredient. She also said the results of tests carried out by the Food and Drug Administration and the Medical Science Department had still not been published. She claimed some of her 99NewOne company’s 18 distributors had added text to advertisement posters claiming the product had a fast-slimming effect as well as financial gains for those who used it. The firm had warned them that their distribution rights would be cancelled if they did that again. NTN – EP