Charges against them included conspiracy to extort, criminal association, uttering threats and putting people in fear of danger to life, freedom, reputation and possession.
The Mayor of Karon, Tawee Thongcham, also surrendered to police to answer charges of collusion with the “mafia” taxi drivers.
The 73 were among 108 for whom arrest warrants were issued. The warrants were based on complaints that the taxi drivers had threatened businesses, extorted money from tour company drivers and threatened them with weapons such as pieces of wood or guns, blocked hotel entrances, and forced tourists to get out of minibuses that arrived to collect them for tours.
At Phuket Police HQ today Pol Lt Gen Panya Mamen, Commissioner of Police Region 8 in Surat Thani, together with his deputy, Pol Maj Gen Paween Pongsirin, Maj Gen Peerapol Wiriyakul from Royal Thai Army Region 4 in Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Governor Maitri Inthusut explained to journalists why the crackdown had been carried out.
Gen Panya explained, “Realising the problem about mafia taxi drivers disgracing the image of Phuket, I set up a team led by Gen Paween and Pol Maj Gen Weerasak Meenawanich from Region 8 to investigate and collect evidences.
“More than a thousand police officers, soldiers and local authority officials have been working on this.
“The plan was launched on January 30 this year; we have spent about three months now working on this problem.”
It was explained that, of the 287 taxi stands in Phuket, 70 were found to be involved in “mafia” behaviour.
“We have issued 111 arrest warrants to those people and now we have arrested 73 of them on 76 allegations,” Gen Panya said.
It was explained that the targeted taxi drivers would always claim that they were working legally, that they were they were just local people who were losing businesses to others, and claiming that they could act the way they did because they had permission from local authorities such as Tambon Administration Organisations and municipalities – and that this local authority support made it impossible for police to act effectively against them.
Whenever the “mafia” taxi drivers had a problem, they would always do three things: block roads, including hotel and police stations entrances; demand that the local police commander be transferred; and demand that they not be prosecuted for blocking roads.
“From now on, the police will not let this happen. No police officer will be transferred and anyone who blocks roads will be prosecuted,” he said.
Gov Maitri said, “The mafia taxi issue is an old one. Strong power must be applied to eradicate it. There must be a new administration to do this. There must be suppression, education and strengthening of local authorities to get rid of the problem.
“Our problem is the local authorities are not strong enough to enforce the law seriously.”
Gen Paween told reporters that the mafia taxi drivers occupy public salas as their “offices”, and use public power and water supplies paid for by local authorities. The majority have no licences to operate as taxi drivers, so the way they work is illegal.
“Mr Tawee was charged with supporting mafia taxi activities in the Karon area, abusing his position to allow these mafia men to use a public sala as a taxi station, and allowing them to use, free, electricity and water that are paid for from national coffers.”
Mr Tawee’s activities will also be reported to the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).
Gen Paween highlighted the fear the taxi drivers have instilled over the years. “We could have arrested more people if businesses were not afraid to point out the wrongdoers. Of 150 businesses on our list, only 51 of them would talk about it.”
Gen Panya said that attitudes would have to change. “In future, local authorities who know what is going on but fail to correct the problem will be regarded as supporting it. We will accept no excuses. We have lost a lot billions of baht because of these people.”
Today’s drive covered mafia activities in Karon, Kamala, Cherng Talay and Tah Chat Chai.
In Karon, the police targeted taxi drivers at six stands, at Club Med, Avista Resort & Spa, Peach Hill Resort, Casa Del Sol Hotel, The Old Hotel, and Centara Grand Beach Resort.
In Kamala the focus was on Cape Sienna Hotel & Villas while in Cherng Talay, three taxi stands were targeted, at Double Tree by Hilton, Best Western Bangtao, and Arinara Bangtao Beach Resort.
At Tah Chat Chai, the target was the Holiday Inn Mai Khao.