National Police Chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk announced the news at a press conference held at the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok today (Jan 27).
The 14 people were arrested in Phuket this morning, as officers arrested some 50 people in total, including in other provinces throughout the country, for cheating the scheme, Gen Suwat explained.
In total, Crime Suppression Division (CSD) officers raided 55 places nationwide, he said.
Gen Suwat made specific mention that one of the “big places” was the Thara Patong Beach Resort & Spa, and “other relevant places” in Phuket, noted a report by state news broadcaster MCOT.
Of the 14 people arrested in Phuket, three were hotel owners, two were shop owners, five were people who facilitated the scam, and four were people who were hired for booking hotels.
“There were about 800 people involved in this cheating in Phuket,” Gen Suwat remarked.
Gen Suwat explained that specifically with the Thara Patong Beach Resort & Spa, the resort had greatly increased its room rates in order to benefit from the government subsidies received.
“A room at the resort costs about B1,000-1,200 per night, but the hotel owner increased the price to B7,500 per night,” he said.
“The suspect had various methods to conduct the cheating. For example, hotel owners cooperated with tour operators to create a three-day hotel and tour package to attract people to book holidays through the campaign, but they did not stay at the hotel presented on the package,” he said.
“Other deceptions included tour operators ordering their customers to use the vouchers given by the hotel only at the restaurants and shops that they [the tour operators] had already made a deal with,” Gen Suwat explained.
CSD Deputy Chief Col Anek Taosuphap explained that some of the suspects had a group of people go out to find people who had registered to be able to book discounted holidays through the campaign, and pay them B400-500 to be able to use their “privilege” to book government-subsidised holidays through the ‘We Travel together’ web portal.
“After some of the privilege holders [sic] agreed with the offer, they [the facilitators] ordered them to install the ‘Pao Tang’ app and use it for booking hotel rooms,” he said.
“Some privilege holders were asked for their ID card information and their SIM cards which they had used to register for the campaign. Then the ‘facilitators’ sold the information and SIM cards for B800-1000 to other people who wanted to be able to book the discounted holidays,” Col Anek added.
The deception was well organised, Col Anek noted.
“One group made the bookings and another group of people were responsible for taking care of their banking,” he said.
More suspects were arrested in coordinated raids in Chaiyaphum, Gen Suwat also reported today.
The riads there targeted the Natchaya Resort and “related parties” in Chaiyaphum Province and nearby, he said.
The raids involved 41 arrest warrants, with 36 people arrested, including hotel owners, shop owners and facilitators, he added, noting that the fraud in that operation involved people and venues scattered throughout the provinces of Chaiyaphum, Loei, Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Phetchabun and Sisaket.
The number of bookings made were not consistent with the small resort having only 10 rooms, he said.
“It was found that over 99% of bookings had one person book 10 rooms every time, adn the check-in and check-out times did not correlate,” Gen Suwat said.
The fraud by the resort itself amounted to B14 million, and involved 101 shops and venues that jointly cheated the scheme through fake claims of customers using the vouchers entitled through the campaign, altogether raising the total damage of the fraud to about B87mn, he added.
In concluding the press conference, Gen Suwat said, “We will keep investigating and further charge more relevant people, such as those who bought the tourism campaign privileges ‘second-hand’ [sic].
“We expect this to involve about 9,000 people throughout the country,” Gen Suwat said.
“We are preparing documents to call them to report themselves to local police,” he added.
“We also found 900 other places that committed similar scams, in both major provinces and minor provinces, which are still under investigation,” Gen Suwat said.