A 62-year-old Chinese man and his Thai interpreter were abducted only meters away from his Bangkok residence earlier this month, then held for hours while their kidnappers demanded cryptocurrency payments.
The abduction, which is said to have taken place on March 10, came to light on Monday after the interpreter, identified in local media as Namsee Sae Lee, filed a police report. An ensuing police investigation identified four immigration officers suspected to be behind the extortion.
The scandal comes amid reports of Thai immigration officers partaking in fraud and the kidnappings of at least three other Chinese nationals in the country over the past week.
On the day of the abduction, the pair had gone to Bangkok’s Chaengwattana government complex to renew the Chinese man’s visa and passport, the interpreter told police this week.
However, his documents were rejected by the immigration office. As the interpreter and the Chinese national returned to his residence in Bangkok’s Din Daeng district, they were kidnapped by five men who had parked outside his house and claimed to be police.
The abductors forced them into a car and drove them around for about five hours while extorting cryptocurrency from the Chinese national, threatening him with forgery charges for using a fake Thai identity card. According to some local reports, they initially demanded 10 million baht ($293,000) in Tether, a cryptocurrency pegged to the U.S. dollar. Other reports said they had asked for 60,000 Tether.
The abducted man negotiated the payment down to 30,000 Tether and was released after the payment was made.
On Wednesday, Thailand’s national police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapas called for the investigation to be expedited. Police are also looking into the Thai identity card held by the Chinese national, who left the country following the incident.
Four immigration police bureau officers have been linked to the case, according to authorities. Arrest warrants were issued for the officers, who have been suspended from the police force. Three of the officers—Sorawit Inlab, Suriya Rukkhachart, and Peerasak Yimpaiboon—were taken into custody at Din Daeng police station in Bangkok on Tuesday night. They denied involvement in the abduction. The fourth officer, Jiraphat Boonnam, remains at large, deputy national police chief Surachate Hakparn said on Wednesday, adding that they expect the officer to turn himself in.
The Thai officers face multiple charges, including collusion in illegal detention, coercion, and abuse of authority, Surachate added. Authorities are also looking for another suspect who is believed to have assisted in the kidnapping.
The case comes just one month after authorities identified over 100 immigration officers—spread across the bureaucratic hierarchy—who were helping foreigners, including Chinese nationals involved in criminal syndicates, to stay illegally in Thailand by forging official documents and issuing illegal visas. Surachate said they were launching a thorough investigation into the visa racket.
The immigration officers’ arrests also come amid a string of abductions of Chinese nationals in Thailand this week.
On Wednesday, two Chinese nationals returned home in the central coastal town of Pattaya after going missing for two days. The husband of 33-year-old San Qi Qiang, who was kidnapped along with her 50-year-old brother-in-law, told police they were taken from their vehicle on Monday morning. The two were released after San’s husband paid a ransom to their abductors.
Police have since arrested a Chinese suspect in San’s abduction at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, but failed to apprehend another suspect who is believed to have flown to Shanghai on Tuesday.
Last week, police also arrested Chinese nationals at the Thai-Cambodia border of Aranyaprathet for kidnapping another Chinese woman. The suspects are currently detained in Bangkok for allegedly luring the woman into a van before demanding ransom in Tether.
After they successfully extorted 8,014 Tether and 250,000 yuan ($36,700) from her, they also forced her boyfriend to transfer an additional 50,000 Tether to them. After they received the funds, they dropped her off somewhere in Bangkok the next morning.
When contacted by VICE World News by phone about the series of kidnapping incidents, Royal Thai Police spokesperson Archayon Kraithong said they were “doing everything [they] can.”
“We cannot say much about this. I have no comment,” he said.
Caleb Quinley contributed reporting.