EDITORIAL: Thailand’s Costa del Crime

Published on November 07, 2005

Another week and another murder of a foreigner with an unsavoury reputation in Pattaya. Last Wednesday was a busy day for the Pattaya police with not one but two gangland-style murders in the seaside resort. The Thai editor of the Pattaya Post was found in his BMW, blindfolded, hands bound and with a bullet hole in the back of his head.

Earlier, in the very same housing estate, a Dutch national was killed by a gunman who had come knocking on the front door of his office. This second “hit” was newsworthy for two reasons: the shooter was a Caucasian and the target was a prominent Dutch underworld figure, John Mieremet.

Mieremet, of course, is not the first foreign gangster to be killed in Pattaya. Dozens have been murdered in the last few years. The crime organisations for which they work are of every persuasion and come from every corner of the world. There are Russian and Swedish mobsters, Pakistani conmen, west African drug and diamond dealers, English soccer hooligans, Australian boiler-room operators, Japanese extortionists and Canadian bikers running meth operations who all call Pattaya home. There is even reportedly a gay Mafia at work in the town. What is interesting about Mieremet’s murder is that it was apparently in reprisal, Dutch police believe, for the killing of Evers Hingst, the most prominent underworld lawyer in the Netherlands, only two days previously. That Mieremet could be found and murdered by a foreign triggerman in less than 48 hours suggests the links between organised crime and Pattaya are getting more sophisticated and entrenched.

This should be a cause for concern. Criminal activity and dirty money when not suppressed, only ever encourage more of the same. And Pattaya surely has enough vice already.

The British newspaper The Guardian recently summed up Pattaya’s attraction to British criminals this way: “In the 1980s, Spain’s Costa del Sol was the destination of choice for many British criminals. Today they head to Thailand, where the beaches are stunning, the women cheap and the police are bribable.”

That Thailand has acquired an international reputation as a country where illegal businesses can flourish because of poor law enforcement is obviously not a good thing. Yet little seems to be done. In large part it is because of the long-standing weaknesses and lack of sincerity in anti-corruption campaigns, but it also because of the prevailing view that any money that flows into Pattaya is good money, no matter its origins.

This is incredibly short-term and self-destructive thinking.

Apart from the damage to Thailand’s image, the growth of such dark industries as fake passports, fake medicines, human-trafficking rings, gun-running and stand-over operations and so on hurts the Kingdom in very real ways.

As with the narcotics industry, the producing country always pays a terrible price due to the local consumption spawned and encouraged by the availability of the illegal good in question. Dirty money also quickly undermines (or in Pattaya’s case further undermines) local law-enforcement and civic institutions. Further, it deters honest business activity, and generally poisons the atmosphere.

To be sure the death of Mieremet is no great loss. He was reportedly part of a Mafia-organisation founded by the late Dutch “godfather” Klaas Bruinsma and was involved in gambling, drug trafficking, prostitution and extortion rackets. Mieremet and his partner Sam Klepper were considered to be one of the Netherlands’ most notorious criminal outfits. The pair was known as “Spic ‘n’ Span”, after an American brand of cleaning powder, for their skill in eliminating rivals.

Bruinsma was shot dead over 10 years ago, Klepper in 2001 and now Mieremet. The three were living proof, or perhaps more accurately, incontestably dead proof, that those who live by the sword die by it.

It is not, of course, possible to screen or run a background check on every tourist seeking to come to Thailand for a holiday or extended stay. But it is possible to do more than turn a blind eye to some of the most egregious criminal excesses and elements that are apparent to even the most casual visitor to Pattaya.

Like Mieremet, many of the worst gangsters in Pattaya will end up dead or in jail, double-crossed or otherwise ruined. It’s the order of things in the criminal world. That they should be allowed so easily to take some of Thailand with them is a truly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

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