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Richard Ehrlich: The Pimp Who Would Be Governor

The Pimp Who Would Be Governor

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's biggest and most notorious massage parlor tycoon said he employed 20,000 women during the past decade and compiled a blacklist naming police who allegedly accepted his pay-offs.

Chuwit Kamolvisit, who chatters like a comedian desperate for laughs, is now squeezing Bangkok's people so he can become their next governor in elections scheduled for August.

Not everyone is chuckling.

Police accused him of staging his own fake kidnapping last year so he could appear persecuted.

More ominously, hundreds of small business owners claim he led a gang of thugs who looted and destroyed dozens of small shops, bars and other commercial establishments on Bangkok's trendy Sukhumvit Road.

Mr. Chuwit denied involvement in last year's destruction of the Sukhumvit Square complex, despite widespread suspicion that he wanted to oust the low-rent tenants and upgrade his property to maximize profits.

He accused army and police officers of running amok in the pre-dawn, January 2003 melee which blighted Sukhumvit Road, but Mr. Chuwit found himself arrested and spent a month in jail last May.

In September, hobbled by lawsuits, investigations and cancelled permits, he established the First Thai Nation party, with a logo showing a golden map of Thailand.

If elected governor, he promises to end corruption because it is too frustrating to do business while paying off a police force whose demands for cash have spiralled out of control.

He currently employs about 600 females, split into groups of 100 women at each of his six modern, airconditioned massage parlors in Bangkok, he said.

During the past 10 years, his six parlors employed about 20,000 female masseuses, Mr. Chuwit said, estimating the total "turn-over" who worked for a while before moving on.

Managing such a diverse work force at his venues -- which include the Copacabana, Victoria's Secret, Honolulu, Hi Class, Emmanuel and Julianna -- is complicated.

"It is difficult. That is why I handle the women very good, because they are not machines," Mr. Chuwit said in a recorded interview on Wednesday (March 17).

"The girls are always thinking every minute, and they always change their minds. They are doing this, they are doing that, so how can I control them?"

The secret to success in seedy, sweaty, sexy situations is to be a sweet boss, he said.

"We share the same house. We are like husband and wife. I accept that I make a profit," he added, smiling.

"You have to think of me as a businessman."

Service with a smile brought Mr. Chuwit to the brink, however, because he made so many enemies that he now wants political protection.

His quest to become Bangkok's next governor is widely seen as an uphill battle in this city of six million people who often appear torn between displaying virtue and enjoying vice.

Mr. Chuwit hopes to offer something no other candidate can -- the secret to peace, love and understanding -- which he learned from the women who toil in his parlors.

"My girls will talk to you and ask, 'What is the problem? Why are you so serious? Come on, I will relax you.' And the guy will say, 'Oh, I fight with my wife.' And my masseuse will say, 'No, no, no, don't worry. Relax'," he explained.

The man's wife also benefits from such ministrations, Mr. Chuwit said.

"He will come back [home], but not fight with his wife" because he will have "cooled down," said Mr. Chuwit who sports a thin moustache.

"Our society needs a psychologist. We don't have one in the Western style."

His huckster boasts about the curative powers of hedonism, however, appear to be a bluff against the real threat to his future -- his dangerous confrontation with authorities.

He claims to possess a list of corrupt police who he has paid off during the past decade while trying to keep his massage parlors open.

His list allegedly includes names, dates, amounts of money and other incriminating information.

Many people assume Mr. Chuwit protected himself by warning police that the list will be released if he is killed.

Asked if he made those arrangements, Mr. Chuwit replied: "The police are like my old friends. I know them, they know me. I know they are never going to kill me. Because why? Because I know they don't have any guts to do that."

And the existence of incriminating documents to be released in the case of his death?

"This is my insurance. I talked with them [the police] already. I told them. Last year, I brought the list to Thaksin," he said, referring to an unamused Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The prime minister rejected the list, Mr. Chuwit lamented.

"The people on the list are the people [police and other officials] who are on my salary, on my payroll, for 10 years," he said, referring to his alleged, unpublished blacklist.

Police and government officials to whom he gave bribes?

"I am not saying it is 'bribes'. I always say it is a 'convenience', to make my business convenient, to make my business smooth."

Critics contend he is merely whining about his own role in corrupting the police and government, and allegedly trying to blackmail them into leaving him alone.

Mr. Chuwit retorts he is simply being honest about widespread corruption so it can be exposed and stopped.

When he first spoke out against alleged police corruption in July 2003, Thai society and its feisty media were agog at his often theatrical willingness to embarrass the police.

After insisting he paid up to 300,000 U.S. dollars each month to keep the cops off his back, several police officers were disciplined.

He said he paid corrupt officials "about 200 million baht [five million U.S. dollars] in 10 years".

Mr. Chuwit said despite making huge payments, police continued to harrass him on trumped up charges, so he decided to go public and end the charade.

Police, meanwhile, have denied involvement in any wrongdoing.

He is also being sued for defamation, employing under-aged girls and demolishing Sukhumvit Square, he said.

Today, Mr. Chuwit portrays himself as someone who knows where the skeletons are hidden, and thus the best candidate to be Bangkok's governor.

He said he planned to spend about 500,000 U.S. dollars during the campaign and hoped to score "about 200,000" votes, though he probably would need at least one million votes to achieve victory.

Despite being dismissed by many as a buffoon, he may be starting a political career and run in future elections until he gains a seat somewhere.

"I will make Bangkok to be the city of joy...the city of happiness," he said.


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is


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