Thailand a "heaven" for international criminals, police admit

Thailand, where the world's most notorious weapons trafficker Viktor Bout was arrested last week, provides a "heaven" for international criminals because of poor immigration data and Thai friendliness, media reports said Sunday. ( dpa )

Bout, Russia's so-called "Merchant of Death" who was arrested in a Bangkok hotel on Thursday, was the latest of half-a-dozen world renowned criminals to be arrested in Thailand over the past five years, raising the question of why these ne'er-do-wells flock to the kingdom, according to the Bangkok Post newspaper.

Senior Thai police officers interviewed by the English-language daily provided some insights into criminals' fondness for the country.

" Thailand is their heaven," said Crime Suppression Division (CSD) deputy chief Petcharat Saengchai. "Thai people are kind and friendly so the criminals feel at ease here."

Thailand's status as a popular tourist destination, drawing more than 13 million visitors a year, also facilitates the entry of world-class criminals, said Panaspong Sirawongse, head of Interpol's Liaison Office in Bangkok.

Bout, who is now staying at the "Bangkok Hilton," as Klong Prem maximum security prison is called, entered Thailand on a tourist visa he picked up at the airport.

Thai police were tipped off to his arrival by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), whose agents assisted in the arrest of Bout, who was reportedly in Bangkok to negotiate an illegal weapons deal.

One DEA agent who participated in the sting operation told the Bangkok Post that poor data at Thai immigration was one reason international criminals chose to do their business in Thailand.

"The database does not synchronize with other countries and it is not updated," said the DEA agent, who declined to give his name.

Besides Bout, other notorious criminals who have recently been arrested in Thailand include Morgan Michelle Hoke, the "ponytail bandit," who was nabbed on February 13; Christopher Paul Neil, or "swirly face" the paedophile, who was arrested on October 19; and Nurjaman Riduan bin Isamuddin, better-known as "Hambali," a terrorist who was caught on August 13, 2003, in Ayutthay, Thailand.

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