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South African job ends in mystery poisoning

A THAI masseuse working in South Africa has died under suspicious circumstances after eating mushrooms - and her husband has serious questions about her death.

The body was sent back to Thailand for an autopsy here last Friday.

Husband Sanmuang, not his real name, does not believe consuming mushrooms was the real cause behind his wife's death. He said she often ate mushrooms and never before had any severe symptoms from eating them while staying in South Africa.

It should have been a happy day for Sanmuang to welcome his wife, Srichan (not her real name), back from South Africa after she'd been away for three months.

But last Friday he was faced with the sad task of taking his wife's body from Suvarnabhumi to the Central Institute of Forensic Science Thailand to find the real cause of her death.

"She always ate mushrooms, like other female masseurs, while staying in South Africa and no one developed any serious illness," Sanmuang said.

"She told me that she and her friends collected the mushrooms from the garden behind the house for cooking," he added.

According to Sanmuang, Srichan went to work in South Africa as a masseuse last October. She had applied to a local recruitment company certified by the Labour Ministry.

She knew of this company from an Internet search. The company told her it would take care of all travelling expenses and other costs in South Africa.

The company told her she would get Bt30,000 as monthly wages plus 10 per cent commission and tips. But in fact she was paid only Bt16,000 a month and had to work as a masseur to pay off a debt of about Bt80,000.

"Srichan was a straightforward person [and] she complained to me about the influence of her boss. She said she'd been lured into the job by offering a high salary," he said.

Srichan was expected to arrive back in Thailand by the middle of January. Before she died, Sanmuang said she told him she had repaid all her debt back to the company and was so happy to return home and see her three kids.

But Sanmuang received a phone call from the company in South Africa on December 29 telling him that his wife had died from eating mushrooms.

Sanmuang received another call last month from a person who claimed she worked for the company in South Africa and tried to persuade him to allow the company to manage the cremation of his wife's body. It offered to return her remains back to Thailand. The death of Srichan is now being investigated by South African officials.

At the same time, a Thai forensic team is now performing the autopsy.The result of the study is expected to be released in the next three weeks. Srichan's body will today be cremated in a funeral ceremony in her hometown. Her husband hopes this will be the last case of an overseas-based worker ending so tragically.




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