On a December evening, Bangkok's international airport is crowded
with incoming visitors. Swarms of European, Japanese, and North
American tourists file through customs into the arrivals hall,
where tour operators wait to snap up clients.
But tourists aren't the only ones regularly arriving in the Thai
capital en masse. Over the past three years, Bangkok has become a
hub for global organized crime syndicates, which use the city to
transport drugs, people, and arms to other countries; counterfeit
money and documents; and set up international prostitution rings.
"More and more international crime syndicates are basing
themselves in Thailand," says Khachadpai Buruspatana, head of
Thailand's National Security Council. Crime syndicates "are coming
in waves and engaging in prostitution, trafficking of women and
children, and drug dealing."
Thai police arrested nearly 2,600 foreigners in the first six
months of 2000, which police sources believe is the most foreign
nationals they have ever jailed in a half year.
Crime syndicates from Russia to Hong Kong have reason to set up
shop here. In an effort to boost tourism, Thailand has adopted
loose visa policies, which allow foreign nationals to easily slip
in and out. Nationals from 154 countries can enter the country
without a visa, or obtain a visa on arrival. "Lawbreaking outlaws
hidden among the huge numbers of tourists and businesspeople are
putting at risk our national security," the Bangkok Post said in an
The lingering economic crisis of 1997 also has provided
syndicates with a larger pool of impoverished potential local
recruits. In the early 1980s, the top 10 percent of Thailand's
households earned 17 times more than the bottom 10 percent. After
the economic crisis, the gap between the top and bottom had widened
to more than 37 times.
Thailand's geographical location is another asset to organized
crime, criminologists say. Situated between South and East Asia,
Thailand is an ideal transit hub. Singapore-based research
institute Strategic Intelligence has estimated that Thailand's
domestic illegal economy produces revenues equal to 20 percent of
the country's licit Gross National Product. With a vibrant domestic
trade in illicit gambling, narcotics, and prostitution, global
crime syndicates operating in Thailand have a profitable local
market for dumping some of their goods.
A September poll of 4,016 households found that Thais believe
corruption among authorities is the third-most-serious problem in
the country. …