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Ex-Massage Parlor Tycoon Rubs Away Thailand's Police Chief

Ex-Massage Parlor Tycoon Rubs Away Thailand's Police Chief

By Richard S. Ehrlich
September 19, 2011

BANGKOK, Thailand -- When voters recently elected a crude, joke-cracking, former massage parlor tycoon to parliament, no one expected him to immediately unleash a video sting against Thailand's biggest illegal casino, and topple the country's chief of police, plus the military-installed head of the National Security Council.

"I have been removed for a reason which has nothing to do with my ability or my shortcomings," Thawil Pliensri, the ousted National Security Council secretary-general, said on September 7.

All the chaos and drama is thanks to the wise guy tactics of Chuvit Kamolvisit, who has even upset the U.S. State Department.

The American Embassy refused to issue Mr. Chuvit a visa to meet his two daughters and former wife in San Diego, California, because he previously owned several huge Bangkok massage parlors packed with sex workers and openly admitted to bribing police, he said.

"I stopped my massage parlors," a reformed Mr. Chuvit said in an interview while waxing nostalgic about his life in America in 1985 when he worked as a doorman at a sleazy sex club in New York City's Times Square.

"I miss my kids, who are American," he said, describing two California daughters, 24 and 26, from his first of three marriages.

The U.S. Embassy gave him a visa four years ago, he said, but "they don't give me the human right" to have another visa.

Now, instead of bribing cops, he is using his new seat in parliament to expose police who allegedly profit from lavish, illegal gambling dens equipped with baccarat tables, roulette wheels, card games and other betting games.

Most gambling is illegal in this Buddhist-majority country, though lotteries are permitted.

Mr. Chuvit, who boasts of being a hedonist, favors legalizing gambling and heads a tiny, four-man opposition Rak Thailand ("Love Thailand") party, which he uses as a personal soapbox.

After winning a July election, he stunned parliament in August by displaying an elaborate video sting he arranged which allegedly showed Thailand's biggest illegal casino was protected by police.

There are more than 170 illegal gambling dens of various sizes in Bangkok, winning a total of up to $6 billion each year -- with five to 20 percent of the profits allegedly paid to bribe police -- according to Rajabhat University's Good Governance program.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal gambling sites exist throughout Thailand.

Mr. Chuvit said he exposed the biggest one, which raked in about $500,000 every night from 1,000 gamblers in the heart of Bangkok.

"So it becomes about 450 million baht ($15 million) per month," in profit for police and others to share from just that one casino, Mr. Chuvit said, grinning with delight that his surprise "anti-corruption" crusade is wildly popular with Thailand's media and public.

"Let me tell you roughly about the illegal casino," he said, mimicking the voice of an imaginary policeman conspiring with cronies:

"These two tables, I give to you. You give me (bribes). These five tables, I give to that guy. Three tables, I give to that guy. And I charge you per table."

Asked who operated most of Thailand's illegal casinos, Mr. Chuvit replied, "I think 100 percent are with the police getting money from the illegal casinos."

Anyone else who wants to open an illegal gambling den has to pay off the cops, he said.

"They cannot open without the permission of the police. If you are the big guy from the army, you have to still be paying the police."

Amazingly, Mr. Chuvit expects to survive in this Southeast Asian nation where contract killings are common, despite exposing lucrative kickbacks.

"The media protects me. That keeps me alive. Because I am still in the spotlight," he said in the interview on August 31.

Others speculate that he protects himself by possessing evidence of much wider corruption and illegal activity, which could be published if he were murdered.

His video sting against the illegal casino appeared to be cleverly planned.

Mr. Chuvit showed his first video in parliament on August 23, which reportedly revealed the lush interior of a huge, expensively equipped illegal casino packed with gamblers.

He voiced mock outrage that police had not closed down Thailand's biggest casino, alleging that the cops were corrupt.

Despite that spotlight, police waited three days before staging a raid, and then announced that Mr. Chuvit was wrong because the building was empty.

"I know the police will be late," Mr. Chuvit said at a news conference earlier on August 31, describing his two-part sting.

So, Mr. Chuvit whipped out his second video, purportedly shot from a nearby rooftop, showing men and trucks emptying the casino's gambling tables and equipment during the three days while the police hesitated.

"Every night, they move everything. The ceiling, the carpets, the tables, the chairs, everything...They can move it in three days. Unbelievable," he said.

As a result of Mr. Chuvit's videos, National Police Chief Gen. Wichean Potephosree was forced to resign last week.

A Royal Thai Police Office committee began investigating 10 other senior police officers for alleged involvement in the case.

"It is impossible that a large casino can open in the heart of Bangkok, and top-ranking police officers are not aware of it, and do not give a nod to the casino operator," said Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, a fearsome former police captain.

Gen. Wichean's downfall pleased newly elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because the police chief was perceived as biased against her supporters during the past several months.

Mrs. Yingluck replaced him with Gen. Wichean's deputy, Police Gen. Priewpan Damapong, who is the elder brother of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's ex-wife.

Mr. Thaksin is Mrs. Yingluck's brother.

The military overthrew him in a 2006 coup and he is now a fugitive based in Dubai, dodging a two-year jail sentence for corruption.

Meanwhile, the National Security Council's secretary-general, Mr. Thawil, was also ousted so Gen. Wichean could have his job.

Mr. Thawil was apparently targeted because last year he helped the military crush anti-coup Red Shirt protesters who support Mrs. Yingluck and Mr. Thaksin.

"You need an expert, the expert to fight about corruption," Mr. Chuvit said at the news conference.

"Have you ever seen 'Catch Me If You Can'?" he asked, referring to the Hollywood film portraying the true story of an American con artist -- played by Leonardo DiCaprio -- who, after arrest, worked for the FBI to bust forgers.

"I can become the specialist about corruption because I know the corruption.

"I used to pay," he said, referring to $5 million in bribes, spread over 10 years, that he paid to corrupt officials to prevent raids on his massage parlors which had employed a total of 20,000 women.

Corruption is part of Thailand's "system" because "everybody pays," he said.

"If 95 people pay, and only five people don't pay, you become the minority. The majority pay."

He defended his former legally licensed massage parlors, which included the Copacabana, Victoria's Secret, Honolulu, Hi Class, Emmanuel, and Julianna.

"I say, 'What's wrong about the massage parlor? What's wrong? People who don't have sex is wrong.' It's not about the massage parlor is wrong.

"Yes, this is Thailand. I accept that the massage parlor is the biggest sex business in the world."

But the government and public remain hypocritical.

"If you ask them, 'Does Thailand have the sex business?' They will say, 'No'. 'Does Thailand do the illegal casino?' They say, 'Oh no, we are the Buddhists, we cannot do anything like that'."

ENDS

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