The issue of Thai authorities holding passports resurfaced after The Phuket News recently followed up on a report that police in Patong had held onto a British national’s passport for more than three weeks, without pressing any charges.
Eventually, after several phone calls by The Phuket News, the claim was quickly settled, and the foreigner was allowed to conduct a “visa run” so that he may legally continue to stay in the country and work.
After initially declining to answer any questions regarding one of his officers retaining a passport for such a long period without taking any legal action, Kathu Police Chief Col Chaiwat Uikum focused his explanation on foreigners facing criminal charges.
“A passport is the most important document that police can obtain as evidence when a foreigner is suspected or involved in a crime in the Kingdom,” he said.
“Depending on the severity of the case, police may withhold a passport until the official investigation is concluded and the passport holder is handed over to the court, then the foreigner can get his or her passport back,” Col Chaiwat explained.
Col Chaiwat declined to define how long his officers will hold onto a passport before charges are pressed.
“We cannot put a time frame on it. It depends on each case,” he said.
Lt Gen Tesa Siriwato, Commander of the Region 8 Police, supported Col Chaiwat’s position on holding passports indefinitely – but only in investigations that lead to criminal charges.
Region 8 Police oversees police operations in seven Southern Thailand provinces: Ranong, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Krabi, Phang Nga and Phuket.
“Our policy regarding withholding passports is that we do so only in order to properly identify its holder and that the details in the passport match those recorded in the Immigration database,” he told The Phuket News this week.
“However, it is standard procedure to retain the passports of any foreigners facing any criminal charge, but after the matter has been settled in court and damages have been paid, we have no reason to hold the foreigner’s passport.”
The issue of police in Phuket holding foreigners’ passports has been raised by diplomats for decades, with little to no result, despite even car and motorbike rental operators in Patong moving over to a system whereby they upload only photos of passports to a police database for safe keeping.
That system was launched in 2014, oddly, at the behest of the Patong Police – and even then because they were about to crack down on ensuring foreigners were carrying their passports at all times as required by Thai law.
Contacted by The Phuket News this week about their position on handing passports over, the British embassy in Bangkok noted, “It is a valuable document and remains the property of the British Government. It should not be used as a guarantee or deposit for anything with a third party.”
However, the embassy also recognised, “As part of Court proceedings and on the basis of legal advice, you may decide to surrender your passport as part of bail conditions.” (Click here for UK Government travel advice for British nationals in Thailand.)
Similarly, the US embassy in Bangkok noted, “We encourage US citizens to comply with local law enforcement requests and instructions.”
However, the embassy also noted, “Assisting US citizens in need is our highest priority and an individuals should contact the US Embassy if he or she has any concerns or if any assistance is required.” (Click here for information about US embassy services provided to US citizens in Thailand.)
The US embassy specifically warned American nationals against scams by car, motorbike and jet-ski operators falsely claiming exorbitant amounts of money for damages to their vehicles, but added, “Note that the Embassy cannot intervene in personal financial disputes; however, you can apply for a new passport at the US Embassy or Consulate General if you have not recovered your passport.” (Click here for details.)
The Australian embassy in Bangkok noted, “Passports are valuable documents that should be appropriately protected… Australians should not provide passports as deposits or guarantees under any circumstances.”
Specifically regarding rental operators, the embassy said, “Protect your passport: Operators may request your passport as a deposit or guarantee before hiring jet-skis or motorbikes. If there is a dispute about damage to a rented jet-ski or motorbike, rental operators may try to keep your passport until they receive compensation.”