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Chuwit Kamolvisit is leveraging his lived experience of crime and corruption to expose some of Thailand's most powerful figures. Photo: Supanutt Rattanatanaprasan

‘The Truth Will Be Loud’: Thailand’s Former Brothel Baron Is Using His Infamy to Fight Crime

Bangkok's reformed "super pimp" is on a one-man crusade against gangsters, politicians, and police. And he's getting results.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU

Police lieutenant colonel Wasawat Mukkarasakul would have already heard stories of Thailand’s notorious Tub Tycoon when, on the night of Feb. 9, the 61-year-old brothel baron-turned-vigilante published a Facebook post accusing him of corruption. 

This was both surprising and predictable. For months, the tycoon, Chuwit Kamolvisit, had been on a one-man mission to hunt down and chew out white collar criminals in all corners of Thai society, shining an unflattering light on the nation’s deep-seated culture of extortion, bribery, and lies. But this was the first time he’d levelled such scandalous allegations against a single Thai official, and a police officer to boot: publicly shaming Wasawat by posting his name and photo alongside a detailed rap sheet of his alleged wrongdoings to his almost 2 million followers.


The charges were scathing. Wasawat stood accused of running the largest online gambling ring in the country, accepting tens of thousands of baht in bribes so he could fund a lavish lifestyle that saw him driving a supercar to work and travelling the world for weeks at a time. And that wasn’t all. Chuwit further alleged that the officer had engaged in money laundering while acting as the director of at least 10 different companies, including a Bangkok massage parlour named Lalisa.

The next day, Wasawat was suspended from duty. But for Chuwit, the young cop was just the thin end of the wedge. In a subsequent Facebook post, he alleged that Wasawat had been paying protection money to an unnamed, higher-ranking officer so he could run his online gambling network. Shortly thereafter, in a rare interview with VICE World News, Chuwit said he believes “90 percent” of Thai police are complicit in the criminal underworld.

Chuwit’s proclamations come amid a new wave of police crackdowns on corruption and organised crime in the kingdom, which has long battled with systemic malfeasance. Now, as Thailand gears up for a national election, the self-declared “super pimp” is on the warpath, going after conmen, criminals, and grifters in pursuit of something that could just as easily be read as an arc of redemption or revenge. 


Chuwit has been many things: a business mogul, convicted felon, politician, TV talk show host, and celebrity vigilante. He’s gone from running a chain of massage parlour brothels and risen, via a few turbulent detours through prison and parliament, to become a brazen mouthpiece for whistleblowers across the country. He’s an unlikely hero, given his own history of criminal misadventures—but the way he sees it, it takes one to know one. And there are few who know as many dirty secrets as Chuwit and are willing to air them publicly.

“I've been on both sides,” is how he puts it. “I’ve been the one who pays. So I know how the system works.”

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Chuwit once ran a small empire of massage parlour brothels in an area of Bangkok known as "Soapland." Photo: Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images.

He’s getting results. Over the past few months, Chuwit has spearheaded a series of explosive revelations about alleged corruption and collusion between Thai authorities and Chinese triad gangs, who he believes are infiltrating Thai society. He has alleged corruption against some of Thailand’s most high-ranking politicians, and produced evidence that has led to the investigation and indictment of more than 40 suspected Chinese criminals, as well as the dismissal of at least half a dozen officers from the Royal Thai Police over their alleged involvement with gangs and illicit drugs. To a growing number of Thais, he is accomplishing what traditional authorities have failed to.


But although political leaders and experts acknowledge his efficacy in exposing systemic wrongs, some suggest the tycoon may be less a panacea than a salve for an issue that would require systemic change to fix.

Others, meanwhile, have questioned the sincerity of Chuwit’s intentions, wondering aloud what’s in it for him. When asked, Chuwit gives a simple answer: he wants “to raise awareness” and “change the society, change the belief, change the tradition” that has normalised extortion in his country. He wants to transcend his sordid past and be the face of change in a society where precious few seem willing to challenge the status quo or stick their heads above the parapet.

He also has no illusions about the perils that come with that, though, or the fact that it might put him in some dangerous people’s crosshairs—not least of all the triads he’s made a point of targeting, and a police force with a track record of adopting extreme measures to silence their detractors. 

“I describe this as a war,” he said. “A war that I know I'm not going to win. But the war that at least they record in history that someone sparked the light. Just one light… I have no one beside me. But I will become the first light of the darkness.”

Long before he reinvented himself as Thailand’s sleek-haired, pencil-mustached antihero against crime and corruption, Chuwit wanted to be the nation’s answer to Hugh Hefner. And he was. During his early thirties, the playboy-turned-watchdog boasted a well-oiled and lucrative business portfolio: six massage parlours in northern Bangkok, employing as many as 2,000 mostly young women from low-income backgrounds. 


Colloquially, the area is known as Soapland: a strip of neon-lit shopfronts offering paid sex behind the not-so-subtle facade of “steamy hot shower massages.” And in the late nineties, Chuwit was its king. 

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At his peak, Chuwit raked in an estimated 1 million baht ($30,000) a night, selling sex behind his businesses' bathhouse facade. Photo: Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images.

At the age of 32 he bought his first massage parlour—The Love Motel—then a second, and then a third. His assets register became festooned with names like Hi-Class, Sea of Love, and Victoria's Secret. He became one of the city's biggest condom distributors. And before long, Chuwit had established what he describes as a veritable “money machine” across half a dozen upscale venues, selling sex to the tune of 1 million baht ($30,000) a night.

Those earnings weren’t strictly legitimate, though. While massage parlours are legal in Thailand, sex work is not. Behind closed doors, Chuwit was breaking the law. And when the police came knocking, he admits he was willing to buy his way out of trouble.

“I used to be the ex-massage tycoon parlour owner, so I know the system to pay the bribes to all the officers,” he explained. “The system will punish you if you don't pay the bribe.”

Throughout his reign as Tub Tycoon, Chuwit fed this system. He estimated that at one point he was paying 12 million baht a month ($350,000) in bribes, plus a further five million baht ($145,000) in free services to members of the Royal Thai Police. With money and sex, he was quietly buying his impunity. Until his misadventures demanded too high a price.


In the early hours of Jan. 26, 2003, a demolition team of some ​​400 hired goons launched a predawn raid on a hive of bars, shops, and businesses in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Square, a plot of land that Chuwit had purchased just weeks earlier to develop a five-star hotel. 

“The tenants were not paying,” he told VICE World News of the incident. “I used a special way to deal with this. At night I took a photo of every shop, I recorded the assets, and I let a heavy machine demolish them all.”

The ensuing destruction caused more than 140 million baht damage to the small businesses, and in response to the nationwide outrage, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised retribution. Chuwit was arrested and briefly jailed on suspicion of hiring the wreckers, and the police he’d been paying, he says, refused to protect him. 

Upon his release, he decided to pursue some vengeance of his own.

“Corruption in Thailand is very bad… We don't know [of a] department or section of the government that’s clean.”

The heat from the cops had intensified: frequent police checks were affecting business, and at one point his venues were targeted by what local media labelled a “get-laid-and-raid” sting, where officers posed as clients, had sex with the “masseuses,” and then arrested them for prostitution.


Triggered by the relentless pressure, along with increasingly extortionate blackmail demands and allegations that he was employing underage girls in sex work (of which he was later acquitted), Chuwit waged his own harassment campaign against authorities in August 2003. 

The king of Soapland revealed what everyone knew about the bathhouse district—that it was a hotbed for the sex trade—and made a series of damning allegations against the Royal Thai Police. He told the nation’s media that a number of senior officers not only accepted hush money, but also frequented his brothels as clients. Thailand's commissioner general of police responded by ordering an investigation into his claims. 

In the days and weeks that followed, Chuwit, now on a blitzkrieg, drummed up more outrage as he levelled further accusations against the nation’s cops and senior politicians. In late 2003 he took his advocacy into the political arena, declaring himself leader of the Ton Trakun Thai political party and, in April 2004, announcing he would run for governor of Bangkok, selling off his massage parlours and recruiting some of his former Soapland staff to join him. 

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Relentless pressure and extortion from police eventually forced Chuwit to go public with a series of scandalous allegations against Thai authorities. Photo: Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images.

“My friend said, ‘Are you crazy? You are the massage parlour owner. You cannot be the Bangkok governor,’” Chuwit recalled. “So I said, ‘Maybe I’ll try. Maybe I won't win. But I think I can make the people know something [of] the truth.”

Chuwit placed third after securing about 16 percent of the vote. After another unsuccessful bid for Bangkok governor in 2008, he formed the Love Thailand political party in 2011 and, having campaigned as an anti-corruption watchdog, won the party four seats in the House of Representatives.

But his political career was not destined to last. Ultimately, Chuwit decided that the best course of action was to strike out on his own.

“That is not the right place for me,” he said of his brief dalliance with parliament. “In Thai politics, you have to join them. You have to be the corrupt majority. If you are the clean minority, you cannot do anything.”

“I entered the parliament, and I learned something dirtier than the business I used to do… I think most of the corruption in Thailand happens in the parliament.”

With such brazen statements as these, it’s easy to see how Chuwit has managed to galvanise so much support from the Thai public. On the dirty business of politics, most seem to agree with him. 

Nine in 10 people in Thailand think government corruption is a big problem, according to Transparency International’s latest “global corruption barometer,” and nearly a quarter of public service users reported paying a bribe in the previous 12 months. Corruption in general is systemic to the point of normalisation. Illicit payments to public officials are widely regarded as par for the course.


“I would argue that the embedded patronage system is one of the main causes of corruption in Thailand,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at the Faculty of Political Science at Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani University, told VICE World News. By “embedded patronage,” Titipol referred to a societal system where Thailand’s economic elite gain clout by developing mutually beneficial relationships with the country’s political rulers, through gifts and other contributions.

“When you are close to those who are in power, you can do anything.”

Rangsiman Rome, a prominent activist and increasingly influential politician with Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party, knows this better than most. He’s been swimming around in the muddy pool of Thai politics for almost a decade.

“Corruption in Thailand is very bad. It's everywhere,” Rome told VICE World News. “We don't know [of a] department or section of the government that’s clean.”

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Thai politician Rangsiman Rome makes the "three-finger salute," a gesture adopted by Thai pro-democracy protesters, at a demonstration in Bangkok. Photo: Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The 30-year-old is a straight-laced counterpart to Chuwit: waging war on corruption from inside the halls of parliament and brazenly exposing shady ties between state and criminal actors. In mid-February, during a parliamentary debate, he rebuked the government over its perceived failure to meaningfully crack down on Chinese triad operations within the country, and publicly named several politicians who he accused of having connections with notorious criminals such as convicted illegal gambling kingpin She Zhi Jiang.


Like many of the Chinese triads in Thailand, She, who was involved with illegal online gambling operations, fled there from China to evade Chinese president Xi Jinping’s nationwide anti-mafia campaign in 2018. Against that backdrop, many triads seem to view Thailand as an easy target, and a prime location to set up shop.

“What country are you going to choose if you are in the grey business in China?” said Chuwit. “You're going to choose to come to Thailand, because Thailand is easy… The system is weak. You can pay money for everything: buy the judge, buy the attorney, buy the police. This country is perfect for the Chinese to come in and set up the illegal thing they cannot do in China anymore.”

The Global Organized Crime Index notes that “many officials at all levels of [Thailand’s] state apparatus [are] either directly or indirectly engaging in organised crime.” Among the most notable of those is the Royal Thai Police. And according to Rome, “it’s getting worse.”

“Police and corruption is very normal for Thai people,” he explained, noting how the cycle of dirty money and institutionalised corruption incentivises officers to seek out illicit cash flows so that they can grease palms of their own—something essential for career progression. 


The government, however, is also complicit, according to Rome, and allegations of corruption have rattled all the way to the top of the chain. During the parliamentary debate in February, Rome accused prime minister Prayut of failing to follow up on allegations against suspected Chinese triad boss Chaiyanat “Tuhao” Kornchayanant, and suggested that the delays may have something to do with Prayat’s nephew running a construction firm with links to Tuhao.

As it happens, it was this same case that set off Chuwit’s latest headhunting vendetta against Chinese triads and corrupt Thai officials. Last October, based on a tipoff from Chuwit, police raided an unlicensed entertainment venue in central Bangkok, confiscating various drugs, luxury cars, and gambling equipment, and arrested dozens of primarily Chinese patrons, more than 100 of whom tested positive for drug use. That nightclub was owned by Tuhao, who had been living in Thailand for more than 20 years and was married to Wanthanaree Kornchayanant, a police colonel and niece of former national police chief Pracha Promnok.

Following the raid, deputy national police chief Pol General Surachate Hakparn, known locally as “Big Joke,” publicly stated that Tuhao’s group was one of five Chinese gangs operating entertainment venues in Thailand as fronts for narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and online gambling operations. 


Amid subsequent public pressure, police finally charged Tuhao, who surrendered to authorities on Nov. 23 while denying any involvement with illegal activities. Shortly thereafter, five Bangkok police officers were relieved of their duties for allegedly taking bribes.

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Some question Chuwit's personal agenda, and whether his anti-corruption campaign is as selfless as it seems. Photo by James Willson / Thai News Pix

After the fall of Tuhao, the dominoes cascaded. On Nov. 30, 2022, teams of police raided 12 locations across Bangkok and a further 22 across Thailand, arresting another alleged triad boss amid a major crackdown on Chinese gangster activity in the country. 

In December, following public pressure from Chuwit, police announced that they would press money laundering charges against Tuhao. Around the same time, a further nine people were arrested over their alleged involvement in businesses linked to the triad boss.

By mid-January, with his whistleblowing having led to at least 20 officers from various agencies being placed under investigation, Chuwit’s public campaign had reached fever pitch. 


Does he have a source in the police who’s leaking him information? “Yes.” And the government? “Oh yes.”

“How can I get information? … I need an insider.”

His methods, he explained, are straightforward. Usually he’ll contact his targets first, threaten to publicly shame them, and try to intimidate them into submission.

“Maybe I will call you. I will say that I have the evidence; I have the video. If you resign now, I will not do anything with you. But if you say no, I think you're going to really hurt bad. Bad things are going to happen to you. And [some] choose to resign.”

In other cases, he yanks back the curtain and exposes them outright—whether it be to the police or the public. It’s a method that may at times seem dangerously extrajudicial. But as far as forcing a reaction goes, it works.

“You have to be really special to deal with the corrupt in Thailand,” he added. “You cannot do the legal, you cannot use the law. You must do it the same way that they do it to us.”

Chuwit’s efficacy at cracking down on crime and corruption speaks for itself. The Tub Tycoon’s hit rate has proven so impressive, in fact, that many have questioned where he gets his information. Some recognise the obvious—that his former criminal connections afford him valuable lines of communication into Thailand’s underbelly—while others have raised suspicions around the possibility of leaks within the Royal Thai Police, or the government itself.


When asked, Chuwit was candid on the matter. Does he have a source in the police who’s leaking him information? “Yes.” And the government? “Oh yes.”

“How can I get information?” he replied. “I need an insider.”

More broadly, he added, his intel comes from “all around,” including anonymous whistleblowers approaching him with tip offs and scoops. It’s one of a few advantages that comes with commanding a platform as public as his.

“When everybody keeps quiet, only one voice can be powerful,” he explained. “[That] one voice is me, so all information goes to me. Because as long as they give the information, they know that I will talk.”

Some have tried to stifle that voice. In February, after Chuwit started firing off accusations against the young cop Wasawat, a retired officer from the Royal Thai Police allegedly attempted to buy his silence with 6 million Thai baht ($175,000). The tide had turned: Chuwit, perversely, was now the one receiving bribes. He responded by attempting to donate the hush money to a Thai hospital, later tasking authorities to trace the origins of the cash.

“If you want to stop businesses like this in Thailand, you need people like this.”

While such acts of selfless philanthropy feed an image that Chuwit seems eager to cultivate—a benevolent hero and fearless crusader who steps up for the underdog—there are still questions over whether the former king of Soapland’s new persona is as clean as he claims. How connected he remains to the criminal underworld, and the source of his income today, remain murky. But even those with reservations accept that his shadowy side may be a necessary evil.

“He is the person who knows about this dark business… sometimes, if you want to stop businesses like this in Thailand, you need people like this,” said Rome. The MP further admitted that he does suspect Chuwit may have his own, personal agenda. 

“I try to think: So what? I try to judge people from what people really do. And if he does good, it's good—but if he does bad, we can criticise him. We can talk about that.”


Chuwit has become a public mouthpiece for whistleblowers throughout Thailand—but he's aware of the dangers that come with that role. Photo: by James Willson / Thai News Pix

Titipol is similarly conflicted over the efficacy and value of people like Chuwit, and their ability to meaningfully change the bigger picture for the better. 

“I personally think that in the long term, people like him don't help change the system much,” he said. “But he can change the system in the short term.”

Chuwit, for his part, is playing a short-term game with long-term goals. He knows that at some point he’ll likely have to disappear from public life, if only for the sake of his own safety. But he also believes that he is in a unique position to affect meaningful change in Thai society, to disrupt corruption, and to make some kind of difference—however small. 

“Maybe I am the one who knows that I'll never win this war, but I think absolutely this is a war I have to fight,” he said. “The corrupt are afraid of one thing: they're afraid of the people who shout, who speak loudly… They are afraid of the people who speak the truth. And the truth will be loud.”

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