SAMUT PRAKAN — It was meant to be an uplifting story of humanity coming together during the time of pandemic: 8 million baht donated to an elderly taxi driver crying in front of camera because he was left all alone with no job.
But by Thursday, every heart-wrenching detail posed by cabbie Sitthichai Klaichit was disputed by his colleagues and family. Sitthichai was supported by his family, and he even has a place to live for free, those close to him said. The taxi driver was also nowhere to be found, along with the donation money.
“I saw him on those clips on Facebook where he cried to get attention from society, saying that he lives alone,” Sitthichai’s boss Preecha Chumsombat said Tuesday. “That’s not true. I can confirm that. … After he got the money, he didn’t think to pay his debts. I asked his kids twice after he got the millions.”
Preecha, who owns the taxi rental company, said Sitthichai didn’t pay his debt of 14,970 baht even after receiving the 8 million baht from the public. It was Sitthichai’s son who later paid back the debt to Preecha.
Sitthichai shot to fame when he broke down in tears on the news in early April, while saying he had no family to take care of him and no money to eat. Netizens soon sent money to him, thinking he was one of many people whose lives collapsed under the coronavirus pandemic.
But Sitthichai had a son who also worked with him at Mongkorn Chao Phraya Taxi, as well as a daughter who worked at a gas station, both of whom supported him financially, according to his boss.
The apartment he was living in was also rent-free, since it was owned by his ex-wife. He only had to pay for utilities.
Neighbors interviewed by Khaosod said Sitthichai moved out from his apartment as soon as he got the money, and he appeared to close down his phone number. A gas station worker that Sittchichai regularly visited said he recently drove in to fill up his tank in a brand-new green car.
Chutima, Sitthichai’s sister, said she could not contact him either.
“He’s afraid that relatives will approach him after he got money,” she told the media.
However, Sitthichai appeared to have made good on his promise that he would donate portions of the fund to charities.
A Facebook page called This is Samut Prakan posted photos of what’s said to be money transfer slips from Sitthichai, donating 100,000 baht each to a taxi drivers’ foundation, a hospital, a Chiang Mai forest fire organization, and another taxi rental.