Posted on: November 4, 2022, 09:20h. 

Last updated on: November 4, 2022, 10:31h.

As Cambodia continues its efforts to thwart illegal gambling and human trafficking, criminal organizations are moving into new territories. Thailand has become a hot spot, with a recent police raid hoping to take a step toward preventing illegal activity from exploding.

Bangkok nightclub fire
Firefighters work to put out a Bangkok nightclub fire that ultimately killed 13 people. The nightclub was operating illegally, part of a growing trend fueled by criminal organizations looking to launder funds in the country. (Image: India TV)

This police operation this week saw roadblocks and searches in Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok. They simultaneously targeted three locations in particular, arresting 15 suspects.

The criminal underworld in Thailand blankets almost the entire country. Chinese connections to seedy activity in nightclubs, protected by politicians, are fueling illicit operations.

Thailand Unchained

A police statement explained that the raids were in response to another controversial raid Bangkok police recently carried out. That took place at a nightclub that caters exclusively to wealthy Chinese clients, and which resulted in disturbing findings.

Police seized THB300 million (US$7.99 million) in assets and THB42 million (US$1.12 million) in cash. The statement noted that one of the Chinese suspects had a Thai ID card. The card belonged to a Thai national and had made its way to the suspect through a theft ring.

Police suspect that Chinese nationals are behind the operations where illegal funds are being combined with legal businesses to make them appear legitimate. The funds come from illegal gambling, illicit drugs, and other criminal enterprises in Cambodia and elsewhere.

An investigation by the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Trade is working to determine the size of the network. Authorities believe that bribes to police officers and political figures are helping the criminal groups thrive and grow.

Police General Torsak last week brought down an operation run by Chinese criminal organizations that purchased data from a Ministry of Commerce official, his wife, and a police officer. Torsak said the operation could be traced to Cambodia, where gangs continue to run freely.

To cover the origin of their money, Chinese cartels are also purchasing property in Thailand. They reportedly sometimes buy entire phases of a real estate development using false or stolen Thai national identification cards. A lack of due diligence on the part of authorities means the deception is rarely uncovered.

Nightclub Nightmares

Torsak said many of the illegal nightclubs in and around Bangkok have foreign owners. These establishments are nothing more than locations where illicit drugs are sold and consumed.

This often leads to overdoses and deaths. It also leads to disputes over money, which also end in death. In some cases, bodies are unceremoniously tossed out like trash.

As a result of the raids, authorities have pieced together more of the puzzle. Several of the suspects handed over passports that showed repeated trips across the region, including to Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia. This information can help identify the extent of the network.

There was also evidence linking restaurants, bars, and other businesses in the Golden Triangle in Laos. The Golden Triangle is recognized globally as perhaps the largest illicit drug hub in the world.

There’s a chance that Thailand will legalize casinos, although resistance to the idea is high. The consensus by opponents is that any legal operation would ultimately fall under the control of illegal companies. The growth of the criminal underworld in the country might strengthen that theory.