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Abuse of Phuket tourists: 'Bar mafia’ crackdown looms

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                                                       Abuse of Phuket tourists: 'Bar mafia’ crackdown looms
20/05/2011

PHUKET: Foreign “mafiosi” who cheat and even assault foreign tourists sometimes do so with the support of Phuket officials, yesterday’s meeting with a high-ranking Ministry of Interior (MoI) official was told.

Interior Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary Pranai Suwannarat was in Phuket to hear directly from tourism industry operators and analysts about problems facing the industry.

His findings during the four-hour gathering will be compiled into a report to be submitted to the MoI.

Bhuritt Maswongsa, Vice President for Marketing of the Phuket Tourism Association, told the meeting he received “almost daily” complaints about foreign bar owners overcharging patrons.

“Foreign mafia are mostly Russian and German. They open bars and charge much higher prices than their competitors.

“For example, they might charge 200 baht for [a small] bottle of beer that usually sells for around 80 baht to100 baht a bottle at other bars. They exploit consumers,” he said.

Such operators typically set up in west coast beach areas popular with foreign tourists, such as Patong, Kata, Karon and Surin, he said.

In some cases tourists are assaulted if they refuse offers to enter certain establishments, he said.

Sarayuth Mallam, another PTA vice president, said that “Even though the mafia people are locally very powerful, they are afraid of the people in uniform.”

“Tourists come in their bars and get cheated. For example, a tourist bought two bottles of beer but was charged for four bottles.

“Then they had a fight, which was reported to the police who recorded it in their daily log.

“But later the police received a call from a high-ranking government official asking the police to ‘take care of’ [ignore] the case,” he said.

Government officials must clean up their own acts before they can be effective in addressing the problems plaguing the Phuket tourism industry, the lawyer said.

Mr Bhuritt suggested that the Revenue Department audit such bars in order to find a way to prevent customers from being cheated.

Deputy Pranai promised to report the problem – and several others heard at the meeting – to the ministry next week.