By The Nation
POLICE are set to seize the assets of two tour companies involved in two recent boat tragedies in Phuket – which left 42 tourists dead and six others missing – on suspicion of dubious operations including tax evasion and “zero-dollar tours”.
Tourist Police Division’s deputy commander Pol Maj-General Surachate Hakparn said yesterday: “We will ask the Anti-Money Laundering Office [AMLO] to take actions.”
Zero-dollar tours, which are blamed for causing huge financial damages to Thailand and hurting its tourism image, are the subjects of a crackdown by Thai authorities.
The operators of these types of tours offer very cheap tour packages and coerce tourists into buying products at inflated prices once they are in Thailand. While the quality of the tour is often low, they also evade taxes through the use of shops and businesses in the same network.
Last Thursday, the “Serenata” and the “Phoenix” sank in the sea off Phuket after they ignored warnings about rough seas. Most of the victims were Chinese.
Everybody on board the Serenata was rescued and survived, while 42 people on the Phoenix were killed.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Phuket yesterday to inspect the search and relief operations. The Tourism Ministry has announced that it will pay compensations of Bt63.96 million from its accident fund to the boat victims or their families.
“There is clear evidence that at least one of the two firms involved in the recent boat tragedy is linked to zero-dollar tour operations,” Surachate said.
Business Development Department’s director-general Kulanee Issadisai, meanwhile, said Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong was worried about the tourists and crew of the two sunken vessels and instructed her agencies to investigate the companies involved.
The Serenata belongs to Lazy Cat Travel Co Ltd, while the Phoenix belongs to TC Blue Dream Co Ltd.
“Both companies have been registered. But we are going to dig deeper as to whether they have used nominees,” Kulanee said.
Incorporated in 2015, Lazy Cat Travel has registered capital of Bt16million. A Chinese firm, Lazy Cat International, has held 49 per cent of its shares, while other shareholders are Thais. Last year, Lazy Cat Travel reported a profit of Bt1.28 million.
Established in 2016, TC Blue Dream has registered capital of Bt4million and all shareholders are Thais. Last year, it reported a profit of Bt252,422.
“If our in-depth investigations show they use nominees, directors on their board will face legal actions,” Kulanee said.
According to her, the punishments are up to three years in jail and/or a fine of between Bt100,000 and Bt1million.
Surachate urged people to tip off authorities if they know about nominee practices.
He said the Chinese owner of Lazy Cat Travel is being detained at the Immigration Bureau’s detention facility in Phuket.
“His visa is cancelled and he will face charges of recklessness [causing injuries of others] just like the captain of Serenata,” Surachate said.
Surachate estimated that there were about 12 companies operating their businesses in Thailand’s South for Chineses investors via Thai nominees.
Pongpanu Sawetrun, permanent secretary for Tourism and Sports Ministry, said the ministry has a fund for compensating foreign tourist in accident cases and the sum would be paid out within two days.
Compensation for a deceased victim is Bt1 million while survivors would be eligible for Bt20,000 compensation each and another Bt20,000 for the disruption of their travel.
Injured victims will be eligible for medical-cost assistance of Bt500,000 each. The medical-related payout would reimburse hospitals for those costs not covered by other state and private agencies.