One man's fight to save Phuket from mafia and foreign criminals
PHUKET: Chart Chindapol is not going to let mafia elements and foreign criminals destroy the island.
Friday 1 November 2013, 04:37PM
Battling vice sometimes requires more than just the enforcement of the law; the power of coordination can also be helpful, as businessman Chart Chindapol has learned. Mr Chart, a businessman and adviser to the government's trade representative, feels one does not always have to jump to the front of the stage to get things done.
Mr Chart listens to problems from local entertainment and tourism business operators at a recent meeting in Phuket.
Born in Phangnga, his family is widely known in business circles in Phuket, a province he has come to know like the back of his hand.
From its early economic boom during the era of late premier Chatichai Choonhavan, Phuket is now a world-class, seaside resort playground for foreign and domestic tourists and expatriates.
The rapid commercial development of the island province, however, has shown its less glamorous side.
Sprawling entertainment venues have brought vice. Many venues open beyond the 2am legal limit and defy the law by "paying under the table" to keep a business operating, according to entertainment operators who declined to be named.
In a recent informal meeting with Mr Chart in Phuket, the operators said some state officials connected to tourism employ mafia groups to regularly collect "tea money" from owners of nightlife venues in exchange for allowing them to stay open after 2am. Sometimes the officials come and pick up the money themselves.
Mr Chart said he met the operators to hear about their problems and expectations. He has advised Phichet Sathirachawal, the government trade representative, and the operators' complaints can then be conveyed to the government through him.
The operators feel the 2am closing time should be extended to reduce mafia influence.
However, the wishes of the operators will have to be weighed and considered by relevant authorities. Mr Chart is the messenger passing on the input from the affected parties to the government.
Nonetheless, he feels state agencies should hear the operators out and consider if certain restrictions could be reviewed to facilitate tourism.
In recent years, Phuket has been plagued with problems of mafia gangs and state authorities posing as mafia and complaints of rip-offs by local business operators. They are believed to be involved in extortion and collecting protection money from local business operators.
If left unchanged, the problems will drive Phuket's reputation into the ground, Mr Chart said.
Mr Chart, 45, says he wants to do his part and is willing to help combat the bad elements.
The task makes him the target of those who stand to lose by virtue of his actions, but he remains unfazed.
He received complaints from foreign trade representatives he had met as well as from local business operators and foreign travellers in Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi.
While local business operators have complained about extortion by local mafia gangs and unscrupulous authorities, tourists are outraged by overpriced fares charged by the so-called tuk-tuk and taxi mafia, rip-offs by jet-ski operators and other scams.
Phuket, although being a major province generating tourism revenue, is also a bolt-hole for many foreign criminals.
Unless serious efforts are made to address the problems, Phuket could be brought to its knees.
However, his aiding the authorities in dealing with vice and crime on the island province has exposed him to criticism.
"As I am trying to solve the problems, I have become 'mafia' myself in the eyes of those who are affected by my actions," Mr Chart said.
He is also liaising with the Royal Thai Police Office and the Tourism and Sports Ministry to deal with the problems and the information he receives is relayed to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
He also feels the local authorities should address land encroachment, with local mafia believed to be behind the problems. Local administration organisations should also have more say in running provincial affairs.
"I am aware that these problems cannot be solved overnight. But if nothing is done soon, Phuket will lose its status as a world-renowned tourist destination," he said.
He also plans to spend his own money on setting up a private-run complaints centre in Phuket and has vowed to press ahead with a campaign against the criminal underworld in the province.
Mr Chart is a cousin of Rewut Chindapol, the late Phuket MP who successfully led a protest in 1986 against a tantalum plant planned for Phuket.
Rewut attempted to persuade Mr Chart to enter the political arena and run for Phuket MP, but Mr Chart was not keen on politics and refused.
Mr Chart entered into a partnership in real estate in Phuket with Mr Rewat, the younger brother of Rewut.
Today, Mr Chart is co-owner of an advertising and an event-organising company as well as president of Thai Global Intertrade Co which is a major exporter of halal food to Middle Eastern Islamic countries, and several other companies.
He was only six when his father died.
At 14, he finished Mathayom 2 (eighth grade) and left home to travel the world.
He did odd jobs such as waiting on tables and working for a tour company before going back to school. He signed up for the non-formal education programme and completed the Mathayom 6 (12th grade) equivalency test.
He went on to study at Ramkhamhaeng University and obtained a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in public management. He is pursuing a doctorate degree at the university.
He made his first millions while he was in the joint venture business with Mr Rewat during the Chatichai Choonhavan government when the country was at the peak of one of its property booms.
He built on his success and proceeded to co-invest with his friends in several businesses, which has now put him on a firm financial footing.