Opinion: The Labyrinth That Is Corruption in Thailand

Police escort fellow officers who are involved in the alleged extortion of Taiwanese actress Charlene An, while leaving the Metropolitan Police Bureau on Feb. 2, 2023.
Police escort fellow officers who are involved in the alleged extortion of Taiwanese actress Charlene An, while leaving the Metropolitan Police Bureau on Feb. 2, 2023.

Police extortion is getting out of control, flouting the justice system like never before – or was it?

Imagine if Taiwanese actress Charlene An did not have the mettle and social media followers to expose seven Thai policemen at a Huay Kwang checkpoint in Bangkok of extorting her and her three friends 27,000 baht on Jan. 4 for possession of three e-cigarettes and not carrying passport, then we would not have known about such disgraceful and corrupt behavior by these supposed “law enforcers.” One wonders how many more cases went unreported over the months and years simply because the foreign victims were not famous or too afraid to speak out.

The damage done to the Thai tourism industry must be several thousand times the amount extorted by these “policemen,” if not incalculable. As of Thursday, six out of the seven Huay Kwang checkpoint policemen were sent to prison and denied bail by the criminal court as the judges deem the case as having severe impact on Thailand’s image and justice system.

Some suspect that this was not just a random act by rouge policemen but part of a much larger systemic corrupt system where junior officers work like salesmen to extort and accept bribes to meet certain targeted monthly figures to feed not just themselves but their corrupt commanders.


There is no concrete proof of such a corrupt syndicate but have you ever wondered why it is so common to find senior police officers leading a very affluent lifestyle beyond their relatively modest salary?

This explains why some were not surprised by An’s expose and that some foreign guidebooks on Thailand advise foreign tourists to stay clear of Thai police.

Beyond the police circle, the general perception of corruption in Thailand is damning as well. Transparency International (TI) earlier this week ranked Thailand at a dismal 101 out of 180 countries in its 2022 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), way behind Vietnam at 77, Malaysia 66 and there is no public outcry that Transparency International’s results are a lie.

In fact, many Thais feel TI was just reminding them what they observe and feel it’s a rather accurate assessment of Thai reality.

It is the sense of apathy and hopelessness which enables corruption to thrive and not just among the police force. Each of us has the duty to resist corruption which is linked to bribery and even nepotism if we want a better society for our children.


Two other examples are the recent exposure of a number of Thai university lecturers reliant on hired ghost writers to pen their numerous research papers so they could quickly apply to become an assistant professor, associate professor, and then full professor. The matter is more shocking than police extortion because this knowledge is relatively new for those outside Thai academia.

Another is some private company staff routinely markup the price of their hotel accommodation while traveling out of town overnight for work. I recently sat for lunch next to a general manager of one relatively new company which offers full online packages for companies to enable their employees to book flights, accommodation, and other transports in a transparent and potentially cost-saving way.

The GM told me that some company staff at potential client firms abhor him because his company could deprive them of means to cheat and earn extra money. That is not a surprise though he added that top executives at some companies flatly told him they cannot use such services because given the modest pay they give to their sales staff, they need to allow these staff to cheat to make ends meet.