Cablegate: Pattaya: Thailand's Extreme City

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/21/2015
REF: A. 1992 BANGKOK 41165
B. 2004 BANGKOK 4819


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The sea-side port city of Pattaya is
one of Thailand's major tourist destinations, second only to
Bangkok, and a significant contributor to the Thai economy.
Attracted to the 'anything goes' reputation that centers
around Pattaya's sleazy nightlife, over 4 million foreigners
and 10 million Thais visit the area each year, making it a
hotbed for vice, police corruption and transnational crime.
As one of Thailand's major tourist spots, Pattaya could be a
'soft target' for terrorists, but local officials are taking
steps to beef up security. With a sizable American ex-pat
community living there year round, a primary port of call for
U.S. Navy warships, and, unfortunately, the location of a
significant number of non-natural Amcit deaths in Thailand,
Pattaya remains a city of interest to Embassy Bangkok. END


2. (SBU) Pattaya is located in the province of Chonburi,
which is home to a significant amount of industry and
abundant in natural resources. Pattaya itself was a sleepy
fishing town until the 1960's, when it became a major R&R
point for US forces during the Vietnam War. Pattaya soon
earned a reputation for its raucous nightlife, and as the
local economy boomed from the sudden influx of tourism,
significant foreign and domestic investment followed. Today
Chonburi is one of the wealthiest provinces in Thailand,
thanks to the presence of international industry, a natural
deep water port, and sizable Air Force and Naval bases.
3. (SBU) At the heart of Chonburi's economy is Pattaya.
Nearly 4 million foreigners come to Pattaya each year, along
with 10 million Thais. Just two hours away from Bangkok,
Pattaya has the closest beaches to the capital, making it an
easier excursion than the beaches in the South. Pattaya is
inexpensive compared to other locations in Thailand. Pattaya
also prides itself on offering something for everyone,
whether the tourists are retired couples or families seeking
all-ages entertainment. Despite Pattaya's attempts to market
themselves with broad appeal, the vast majority of Pattaya's
tourists are single men seeking an extreme nightlife.
Although only 5% the size of Bangkok, Pattaya's red-light
district is larger than all of Bangkok's major red-light
districts combined.


4. (C) POLOFF spoke with several Thai officials based in
Pattaya, to include the Mayor of Pattaya, the Police Chief of
Pattaya, the President of Pattaya's Business and Tourist
Administration, and the Member of Parliament (MP)
representing the people in Pattaya, as well as one of our
local American wardens and a local newspaper reporter. All
of the Thai officials were unanimously proud of their close
coordination between themselves and Thai immigration
officials, and feel they have a very solid grasp on the
numbers of foreigners who live in and visit Pattaya. Their
latest figures show that between 300-400 Americans live in
Pattaya year round, although our warden believes this figure
doubles if you include people who spend significant periods
of the year (3 months) there. The Police Chief commented
that the Americans were the fourth largest group of ex-pats
living in Pattaya, after the Germans, Japanese, and the
English. According to newspaper reporter Somphon Yotthasak
from the Thai Rath (one of Thailand's largest newspapers),
Russians and Scandinavians are also moving to Pattaya in
increasing numbers and buying up significant amounts of real
estate. Whereas the Japanese living in the area work in the
industrialized sectors, the Germans, Brits, and Americans
that live in the area are either retired or involved in the
service industry. Most of the Americans living in Pattaya
are retired-many of them Vietnam Veterans who fell in love
with Thailand during the war-but there are also many Amcits
operating small businesses in Pattaya, which range anywhere
from chartering scuba dives to managing go-go bars. Thai
officials believe that native-Pattayans number under 100,000,
but migrant workers, mainly from the poor Northeast (Isaan)
region of Thailand swell the population to roughly 500,000.
The mayor of Pattaya also commented that several thousand
Thai Muslims live peacefully in Pattaya, and they often
receive visitors from the volatile South without incident.

5. (C) Apart from being a retirement destination, Pattaya
is the place people go to party. The Thai police estimate
that roughly 100,000 Americans visit Pattaya each year, and
DoD personnel assigned to Embassy Bangkok place the number of
service members visiting Pattaya for a port call at up to
10,000 per year. The Thai police believe that the largest
numbers of tourists are from Taiwan, Germany, and the
Scandinavian countries. There is also much talk about the
rise of Russians visiting Pattaya. Although only 50,000
Russians visit each year, they charter 100 flights a year
directly from Moscow to Pattaya, and Thai officials estimate
that their numbers are increasing by 15% a year (by
comparison, most nationalities are increasing their visitors
by 3-4% a year). The Russians and the Scandinavians come to
escape the long winters at affordable prices. Other large
groups of visitors include Indians (75,000 / year) and
Middle-Easterners (70,000 / year), as well as increasing
numbers from Korea and Vietnam.

6. (SBU) Embassy Bangkok's American Citizen Services (ACS)
unit is intimately familiar with Pattaya. According to the
ACS Chief, Thailand has one of the highest rates in the world
of death by non-natural causes for Amcits. After Bangkok
itself, most Amcit deaths in Thailand occur in Pattaya: this
year 21 of the 106 non-natural Amcit deaths in Thailand have
occurred there. The leading causes of death are traffic
accidents (usually involving alcohol), drug overdoses
(ranging from laced cocaine to using Viagra without a
prescription), suicides (from heartbroken loners) and
homicides. An increasing number of crimes against U.S.
service members are committed by transvestites. There are a
number of arrests of Amcits each year, mostly involving
immigration violations for overstaying their visas, but also
a pedophile or two. Many American fugitives have taken up
residence in Pattaya over the years, along with people who
should be getting treatment for mental illness, but are not.

--------------- ---
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7. (C) According to local police and politicians, the most
common crimes in Pattaya are petty thefts committed by local
youths. When it comes to safety for foreigners, there were
universal concurrences from our warden, the Thai Rath
reporter, and Thai officials that Pattaya is generally safe
for tourists, and that all of the police elements are sincere
in keeping things orderly. The one exception to this,
however, is a big one: staying away from the 'dark
businesses.' This reference to Pattaya's infamous nightlife
centers around prostitution, which inevitably attracts drugs,
extortion, the mafia, and possibly trafficking in persons.
The Thai police claim they only arrest 30-35 people a month
in Pattaya, with 4-5 of them being foreigners. Police claim
that the most common crime committed by foreigners involves
drunk and disorderly conduct, but that a few times a year
they arrest a pedophile.

8. (C) Pattaya's night life lends itself to a significant
amount of organized crime. At the forefront of crime in
Pattaya is extortion, and at the forefront of the extortion
racket are the police. With the exception of the Police
themselves, all of the Thai officials acknowledged that
police corruption is widespread, although the officials
downplayed its impact upon business. Thai Rath reporter
Somphon said that police make between 3000 baht ($75 USD) and
10,000 baht ($250 USD) a month from each establishment so
that they can operate unimpeded, depending on the size of the
establishment and the laws they are breaking. Nearly all of
the bars involve some degree of facilitating prostitution,
but the fee can also vary based on the legality of the
business registration to how much after the 1 am closing
times the bars stay open. The President of Pattaya's
Business and Tourist Administration acknowledged these
figures were accurate, albeit reluctantly. When asked to go
into further detail, he hesitated and replied \"its not an
easy thing for me to talk about.\" It's not hard to imagine
why: on November 2nd, the editor of the local Pattaya Post
newspaper was found dead in his BMW, shot in the back of the
head. The editor had recently exposed local police
involvement with prostitution, and had been working on a
larger expose' on police extortion when he was killed by
unknown assailants. Interestingly enough, Somphon claims
that the police use some of their extortion money to fund
their own operations, as they are not budgeted enough to do
their jobs fully. The Pattaya City mayor disputes this
claim, though he is likely on the receiving end of the
process. Despite having four separate types of police units
operating in Pattaya, the market is large enough for all of
them to receive significant funds and for all of them to be
satisfied with their intake.

9. (C) It is difficult to assess the true level of
trans-national mafias in Pattaya due to conflicting
statements from officials, inadequate evidence of crimes, and
a difference in defining what organized crime actually is.
Reporter Somphon and Chonburi-based Thai Rak Thai MP Sa-nga
Thanasanguanwong believe that organized crime exists from
foreign elements, though even they disagree as to which
countries they came from. Somphon believes the largest
groups are German, Russian, and Scandinavian; MP Sa-nga
believes they are Korean, Dutch, and German, while a recent
article in the newspaper The Nation also referenced mafias
from Pakistan, Australia, and Canada. Conversely, the mayor
and the police both say that there is virtually no
trans-national crime at all. (Comment: neither our contacts
nor any of the newspapers mentioned the presence of organized
crime figures from the US. End Comment.) Part of the
problem is simply defining whether or not crimes committed by
foreigners can be classified as organized crime. According
to the MP, the mayor, and the police, a lot of the ex-pat on
ex-pat crimes are individual and personal, and not the work
of larger criminal gangs. Many of the newly reported crimes
include real-estate fraud, but that has been linked to
individuals instead of organized criminal groups. Even
reporter Somphon believes that violence among the ex-pats
isn't about mafias competing for territory or business
related, but a breakdown in relationships among friends.
However, the November 7th killing of Dutch underworld figure
John Mieremet is widely seen as a revenge killing for the
murder of another Dutch underworld figure back in the
Netherlands, causing police to rethink how Pattaya may be
linked with trans-national crime.

10. (C) The main businesses of the organized crimes are
believed to be extortion and drugs. On the extortion side,
ex-pat businessmen in the 'dark businesses' face a second
level of payments to crime figures from their native
countries, but not to anyone else. The drug problems involve
ex-pat residents of Pattaya selling drugs, mainly ecstasy, to
their visiting countrymen. The police are also closely
watching the rise of Russian-speaking prostitutes appearing
more openly in Pattaya. According to the police, most women
enter Thailand legally on an entertainment visa, knowing full
well that they will engage in prostitution and knowingly
accept it; therefore the police do not believe this rises to
the level of trafficking. All of the aforementioned parties
believe that many organized crime figures on the run from
their own countries hide out in Pattaya.

11. (C) In addition to the police and foreign criminal
elements, it is worth mentioning that Thailand's most famous
crime lord, Kamnan Poh, lives in Chonburi just a few miles
away from Pattaya. Kamnan Poh has been a figure in politics
and organized crime for decades, but was convicted of
ordering the murder of a business rival last year (reftels).
Currently free on bail while his case remains on appeal,
reporter Somphon says that Kamnan Poh approves every
construction contract in central Chonburi and receives a cut
from each. As Kamnan Poh faces the prospect of spending the
rest of his life in jail, Somphon warns that his removal from
the picture will create a huge power vacuum among criminal
elements that will extend far beyond Pattaya city. Three of
Kamnan Poh's sons are active in the TRT; two of them are
MP's. Chonburi MP Sa-nga is a close friend and the personal
attorney of Kamnan Poh, while the mayor of Pattaya is his


12. (C) As one of Thailand's major tourism sites, Pattaya
could provide a very ripe 'soft' target for any terrorist
attack. Pattaya shares many of the same characteristics as
Bali. There is the large number of foreigners, including
many from the Middle East and other areas of concern, making
it easy for would-be terrorists to blend into the crowds.
During the high season, the streets are overflowing with
pedestrians, creating an environment vulnerable to attacks on
innocent civilians. The large foreign tourist presence and
Pattaya's reputation for being a 'city of sin' add to its
attractiveness as a target by religious fanatics.

13. (C) Thai officials contend that other factors make
Pattaya an unlikely target for terrorists. They believe that
the violence from the three southern, ethnic
Malay/Muslim-majority provinces will be contained in the
south and will not bleed over to Pattaya. They also point
out that Pattaya has been a safe place for members of terror
groups traveling in the region to shelter temporarily, and
they believe that terror groups would not want to jeopardize
this satisfactory arrangement by launching a terror attack
there. But in any case, local officials have stepped up
their security efforts. The Thai police work closely with
immigration officials and locals to track foreigners living
in Pattaya. The mayor claims that the police have trained
hotel staffs and taxi drivers about watching for suspicious
activities, and what to do should a bomb go off. The Royal
Thai Navy has EOD teams that routinely patrol the harbor.
Most recently, Pattaya has installed 85 closed-circuit
television (CCTV) cameras throughout the city, with 4
separate command centers to track activities around the
clock. The Thai police mentioned they would like to work
even more closely with American contacts at the Embassy,
noting also that previous coordinations have gone well. (In
July RSO Bangkok conducted document fraud training with the
Pattaya Police. RSO Bangkok is also coordinating a similar
training session with Thai immigration officials based in



14. (SBU) The tsunami had an indirect and positive effect
on Pattaya, as many tourists afraid to visit the South head
to the beaches of Pattaya. The opening of Thailand's new
Suvarnabhumi airport will also benefit Pattaya, as Thailand's
largest international travel hub moves from a location on the
opposite side of Bangkok to a location nearest to Pattaya.
The president of Pattaya's Business and Tourist
Administration says that Pattaya will add another 2000-3000
hotel rooms-an increase of 10% over current levels-in the
next two years. Even at current levels, several officials
believe that Pattaya can accommodate over 200,000 additional
workers to meet the tourist demand.

15. (SBU) Comment. As Pattaya continues to grow, so will
the numbers of American citizens that go there to work, play,
retire, and die. So, too, will grow the amount of criminal
activities and risks associated with visiting there, though
the Thais appear to be making genuine efforts to combat most
of this (with the exception of their own extortion of local
businesses). Though Thailand will continue to place a high
priority on the safety and security of Pattaya's residents
and tourists, it will always remain vulnerable and a target
to a potential attack, though none are foreseeable at this
time. For certain, the nightlife and illicit activities in
Pattaya are still in full swing, probably due to the
crackdown on nightlife in Bangkok (and specifically shrewd
enforcement of the 1 am closing time) and the increased
numbers of foreigners visiting the city. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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