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Phuket turf war: Diary of slain tuk-tuk boss lifts veil on Patong’s transport mafia

PHUKET: Police have presented the personal diary of Sakol Srisompotch, the 58-year-old President of the Patong Tuk-Tuk Club who was murdered last week, as a vital piece of evidence in their bringing his alleged killers to justice.

patong, transport, crime, corruption, homicide, death, police, military, tourism,


Tanyaluk Sakoot

Sunday 6 November 2016, 09:00AM


The diary details the ongoing conflict Mr Sakol had with Wattana “Dam” Nawakeaw, 38, who heads the “KT Tuk Tuk – Taxi Service” group. Wattana now faces charges of conspiracy to murder Mr Sakol.

The KT group is legally allocated by the government to operate in Kata and Karon. They may take passengers elsewhere on the island, but may not pick up passengers outside of their legal “patch”.

However, Mr Wattana and his cadre of tuk-tuk drivers had carved out territory of their own in the heart of Patong. They had done so illegally, and for more than two years after the military led a police crackdown on Phuket’s powerful transport mafia.

Mr Sakol was slain in the early hours of Tuesday last week (Oct 25), when he was shot four times as his attackers opened fire at the cab of his tuk-tuk at close range. The assassination took place in front of the Phuket Villa housing complex on Phra Phuket Kaew Rd in Kathu just before 3am. (See story here.)

Police moved quickly in making two arrests. Wattana “Dam” Nawakeaw, 38, and a 17-year-old male who police named only as “Thong” were taken into custody last Friday (Oct 28) after warrants for their arrest were issued earlier that day. (See story here.)

Both have been charged with conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to illegally obtain a firearm, and conspiracy to bring a firearm into a public area without permission.

Wattana denied the charges, but Thong confessed to his role in the slaying, Kathu Police Deputy Chief Investigator Lt Col Amponwat Seangreung told The Phuket News.

By Tuesday this week (Nov 1), police had another suspect in custody, but another four suspects remain at large, including the gunman and getaway driver, Col Amponwat explained. (See story here.)

All four are no longer in Phuket, he added.

“We have located two more suspects. They have been arrested and will be sent back to face charges here, and we are still tracking down the other two,” Col Amponwat said.

THE HIT

The “hit” was contracted out to one group, of which three of the seven suspects are teenagers, Col Amponwat noted. “Actually, they are all from the same extended family,” he explained.

While the diary, and accompanying voice and video clips, comprise a key piece of evidence, the arrests and hunt for the remaining suspects follows corroboration provided by private and public authority CCTV and witness statements, and tracking them down through social media, Col Amponwat noted.

“Our investigation shows that this was a planned execution,” he said.

The Phuket News was permitted to see – and make a transcript of – the entries Mr Sakol made in his diary on one day only – the last day of his life, Oct 25.

However, Col Amponwat said The Phuket News was not permitted to publish the exact words written by Mr Sakol on that day. He also did not allow The Phuket News to view any other pages of the diary.

Col Amponwat also declined to provide any images from the CCTV footage. “That will be presented in court as evidence,” he said.

'A LOT OF MONEY'

Col Amponwat said he had yet to determine how much the alleged killers were hired for. “But the dispute was over a lot of money – a lot of money,” he said.

By example, Col Amponwat explained that the illegal tuk-tuks cost about B150,000 each. “But operating a fully legal tuk-tuk costs B700,000 to B800,000 each,” he said.

However, Phuket Land Transport Office (PLTO) Chief Sommai Sutkhao said that registering a new tuk-tuk costs less than B1,000. “That does not include the transport service permit, which costs B1,500 per seven years,” he said.

Asked how many tuk-tuks were permitted to operate in Patong, Mr Sommai said, “I can’t remember, but there are about 1,200 in total in Phuket.”

Asked if the PLTO is allowing any more tuk-tuks to start operating in Patong, he said, “No, this is not allowed.”

Explaining the huge disparity in the cost of operating a tuk-tuk in Patong, Col Amponwat noted, “It costs hundreds of thousands of baht to join a tuk-tuk stand in Patong.”

TUK-TUK TURF

Adding to the conflict, Wattana and his group had taken up position in an area where drivers under Mr Sakol’s Patong Tuk-tuk Club had operated for years, Col Amponwat noted.

“Their queues are close to each other,” he said. “There are about 20 illegal tuk-tuks in this area. Details of these tuk-tuks will be sent to the Phuket Transport Land Office later.”

The flashpoint for the killing is likely to have been Mr Sakol’s filing of formal complaints against illegal tuk-tuk drivers.

In 2014, just six months before the Army invaded Patong in the highly-published crackdown on Phuket’s tuk-tuk and taxi mafia, Mr Sakol led a blockade that stopped all traffic from entering or leaving Patong. (See story here.)

Among Mr Sakol’s complaints, he called for serious action against illegal tuk-tuk drivers and he accused Patong Police of working with mafia figures by allowing them to operate.

Two years later and Watanna and his co-drivers were back in Patong, with no action by police until Mr Sakol on Sept 6 this year filed a formal complaint accusing Wattana and his drivers of operating tuk-tuks illegally.

“We asked Patong Police about this. They said they had responded to the complaint already. For details about that, you need to ask them,” he said.

The fine for such as a transgression used be a pittance, but that was before Mr Sakol, during the blockade in 2014, called for the government to increase the penalty to a measly B2,000 per infringement. (See story here.)

However, PLTO Chief Sommai confirmed to The Phuket News on Wednesday that the penalty is now up to two years in jail and a fine of up to B200,000.

DRIVEN TO RETURN

Following the military crackdown on Phuket’s taxi and tuk-tuk mafia (see story here) – and Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha himself standing in Phuket International Airport on Sept 16 this year warning that “The mafia problem must not happen again” (see story here) – Patong Police offered no explanation as to how so many illegal tuk-tuks were operating in plain sight in Phuket’s busiest tourism town.

“We set up checkpoints and check taxi and tuk-tuk queues, and we announce to people that illegal vehicles are banned in this area,” Patong Police Chief Col Chaiwat Uikum said on Wednesday.

“We check that tuk-tuks are registered and that the drivers have the correct driving licenses, and that they a fit and proper to work as transport drivers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Col Amponwat praised Mr Sakol’s stand against the illegal tuk-tuk drivers that he faced every day.

“Mr Sakol was warned about the consequence but stood strong in upholding the law. That’s the risk of standing up to ‘influential people’ in Patong,” he said.

 

 

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Kurt | 07 November 2016 - 13:46:42

After the Prime Minister opened (opened? well,...) the International Terminal of Phuket Airport 7 weeks ago, he also
said in Provincial Hall: ..And we don't allow the mafia back on Phuket...
And my first thought was: Is the mafia than gone from Phuket?
Don't we experience them almost daily?

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Ed Sanders | 07 November 2016 - 11:01:23

I agree with Samantha... the Police are at the root of so many problems, if not all of them.  They seem to operate against the law more than any other group.  They need to be gutted...100%, and have a military law enforcement attachment assigned country-wide.  No more corrupt police.

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samantha | 06 November 2016 - 16:48:37

Sounds like they need to get rid of the corrupt police who are doing deals with the illegal tuk tuk's or get rid of all tuk tuk's and have metered taxi's only. This is a better solution.

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Asterix | 06 November 2016 - 10:47:02

Drivers for tuk-tuk, taxi and minibus do not care much to make money with the official transport fees.

Instead, all of them have a lot of tour brochures and maps to tout tourists to go to tourism shows, elephant trekking camps, zoos, souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and so on.... and get up to 50% commission on sales to their customers.

By the way, TAT Registration and tourist Police are doing nothing to arrest those touts working as illegal Thai guides without a proper license.

By not cracking down on illegal tours businesses sold by drivers along beach roads, TAT Registration and Tourist Police are helping indirectly rogue tour businesses to take a lot of businesses from those legal tour companies which are not giving commissions to illegal tuk-tuk drivers and tour guides.

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Fritz Pinguin | 06 November 2016 - 10:03:46

When will they check out the yellow-roof Tuk-Tuks operating in Karon? They are legal only within the limit of Phuket City, aren't they?

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