SURAT THANI — More than 50 vendors on the southern island of Koh Samui gathered in front of a police station last night to protest alleged rampant bribery among police officers on the island.
The rally was sparked by the arrest of 42-year-old woman who sold counterfeit purses near Chaweng beach yesterday evening.
According to the owner of the shop, police arrested her employee several hours after they demanded 50,000 baht to overlook the store’s violation of copyright laws.
The owner, Patcharee Chimthaprasert, 49, said she initially agreed to pay the bribe, but that officers later raised the price 190,000 baht, which she was unable to afford.
Four officers returned several hours later and arrested her employee, Nampueng Moongraiklang, and confiscated 28 bags as evidence, she said. Nampueng was charged with selling counterfeit copyrighted material.
After news of the arrest spread, around 50 vendors from 20 shops near Chaweng beach closed down their stores and staged a rally in front Bo Phut Police Station. The group filed a complaint that the four police officers extorted bribes from Nampueng and other vendors in the area.
According to Nampueng, her store, called Mirror, paid officers 2,000 baht in bribes every month in exchange for permission to continue selling their products.
"Every vendor has to pay them," Nampueng said, "Today, they can arrest me, but I won't let them get away with it. I don't sell narcotics. I didn’t kill anyone. They extorted money out of me, and when they couldn’t do it anymore, they arrested me."
Speaking to reporters, Pol.Lt. Pitaksith insisted that his team raided the shop and arrested Nampueng because the store violated copyrights laws.
"Law enforcement officers have the power to make arrests without complaints from the victims, because the state is the victim in this case," Pol.Lt. Pitaksith said. "There is also a notice by the Royal Thai Police to strictly arrest cases of counterfeit goods of copyrighted material that has been registered in foreign countries, so we made the arrest."
He also explained that his team only targeted one store because "there were only four officers, so we could not arrest other shops," but he vowed to crackdown on similar offenders soon.
"As for whoever accused the officers of demanding bribes, there may be legal action against them, on charges of insulting law enforcement officers," Pol.Lt. Pitaksith said.
Patcharee, the owner of the store, said the officers acted rudely during the raid. She submitted CCTV footage and mobile phone videos of their behavior to police at Bo Phut Police Station as evidence.
"I couldn't pay the amount of money [police demanded], because the economy is bad at the moment," Patcharee said, referring to the 190,000 baht fee that officers allegedly demanded from her earlier in the day. "Our profit is small. Nowadays, there's only debt, and I cannot simply quit my business, because I wouldn't be able to find money to pay my rent and other expenses."