BANGKOK — Nearly 10,000 people were implicated in a massive scheme to defraud the government through an aid program to revive domestic tourism amid the pandemic, police said Thursday.
A total of 50 people were arrested so far over the scandal in the “We Travel Together” program, which caused at least 1.7 billion baht in damages. National police commissioner Suwat Chaengyodsuk said he has instructed investigators to summon more people involved in the scam.
“We found 400 more hotels and 400 more shops involved in the fraud,” Suwat said. “The Crime Suppression Division will forward the case to provincial police stations nationwide, who will then summon the accused business owners and facilitators for questioning.”
Throughout last week, police raided 55 businesses in connection with the fraud. Natchaya Resort in Chaiyaphum and Thara Patong Beach Resort in Phuket are identified as the chief perpetrators.
Police said Natchaya Resort forged its invoices by hiring people who had registered for the travel subsidy and using their quota to book the rooms and spend their daily allowance vouchers at shops they colluded with.
Thara Patong Beach Beach is accused of marking up their bills from the typical rate at 1,000 to 7,500 baht per night to make up for the government discounts. The “guests” never stayed at either hotels.
A hotel in the resort town of Hua Hin is also said to have registered as many as 6,900 bookings per day – mostly bogus reservations made up to claim the subsidies.
Deputy chief of the Crime Suppression Division Anek Taosuphap said that up to 9,800 people were believed to be involved in the fraud scheme, and police are preparing to issue them summon warrants.
“The suspects spread out across all the 77 provinces across the country,” Col. Anek said on Sunday. “If they didn’t stay at the hotel, they could be charged with colluding in a fraud.”
The 22-billion baht travel subsidy allowed registered travelers to reimburse 40 percent of hotel costs, capped at 3,000 per night, as well as bills of restaurants and shops of 900 baht per day. Costs for air tickets can be also deducted by 40 percent, up to 3,000 baht per round trip. Only Thai nationals were eligible.
Reports of fraudulent practices in the program surfaced on social media by late November. The Tourism Authority of Thailand filed complaints to the police in December, prompting a police crackdown.
TAT Governor Yutthasak Supasorn said his agency has submitted all the evidence to the police and declined to comment further on the case.
“The case is being investigated by the police,” Yutthasak said.
He said most of the suspects are hoteliers, business owners, and individuals who gave up their privilege to the fraudsters. No government officials were found to be involved at the moment, Yutthasak said.
A representative of a regional tourism guild urged fellow hoteliers to follow the rules since the fraud also impacted others who are struggling to survive amid the absence of foreign tourists.
“Most hoteliers know what is good and bad,” Sarayuth Mallum of Phuket Tourist Association said. “If they keep using up the quota for bogus reimbursement, there will be no quota left for those who really need it.”
Registration for the subsidy program was briefly halted in December after the discovery of frauds among the participating hotels. The ban was later lifted on Dec. 28.