A family of holidaymakers collects their baggage after lodging a complaint with police against Wealth Ever Co for fraud. patipat janthong
Police yesterday arrested a woman, suspected of being a mastermind of what is feared to be a pyramid scheme, after she allegedly swindled thousands of people out of 20 million baht with bogus budget package tours to Japan in Ranong after a joint massive manhunt.
The scam came to light at the onset of the Songkran holiday when about 2,000 holiday-makers turned up at Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday evening only to find there were no planes for them to board.
Victims lodged a complaint against Pasist Arinchayalapis, 30, alias Sin Sae Shogun of WealthEver Co, for public fraud. The woman was accused of luring people to pay 9,000-20,000 baht as membership fees for joining a direct sales operation with a promise of package tours to Japan. Police estimate damage at 20 million baht.
Ms Pasist was nabbed at a hot-spring site in Ranong a few hours following the detention of her mother, Monthaya Nirandorn, and aunt identified only as Nitchamon near a superstore in Muang district by immigration officials. Another accomplice identified as Kongsarun Saengprapa was also arrested.
Ms Pasist’s vehicle was found abandoned near a border checkpoint.
The mother and the aunt told authorities Ms Pasist travelled to Ranong with them but they used separate vehicles. Both women have denied having anything to do with WealthEver and have not been charged.
They were taken to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) last night for questioning.
Police traced them from a condominium in Nonthaburi where Ms Pasist was seen leaving with four others including her mother on CCTV about 9pm Tuesday night. They were travelling in three cars which were spotted in Ranong.
Immigration Bureau commissioner Pol Lt Gen Natthathorn Prousoontorn said Ms Nitchamon and Ms Chanchai would be detained under the regime’s order involving crackdowns on crime until arrest warrants are approved by court.
According to Central Investigation Bureau commissioner Thitirat Nongharnpitak, it is not the first time Ms Pasist has been accused of swindling. In previous cases the complaints were withdrawn by the victims following negotiations.
About 500 complaints have been lodged with police, he said, adding those who fell victim to the scam can file complaints with local people without having to travel to the CSD.
Police investigators are coordinating with the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) in examining Ms Pasisit’s and the company’s finances and they will expand the investigation to see if there are others involved.
Public fraud charges are expected to be pressed against Ms Pasist and she faces a five-year prison term for one count of fraud.
A commotion broke out at the Suvarnabhumi airport at 9.30pm when the members of WealthEver found out there were no chartered flights to Japan as promised.
According to testimony of the victims, each paid between 9,000 and 20,000 baht for a trip to Osaka by charter flights between April 11-16.
They were told the payment was not for the tour but for membership of the company’s direct sales business.
When the would-be holidaymakers arrived at Gate 1 of the departure hall at 8pm at Suvarnabhumi as directed, there was no sign of their flights. The company took down its Facebook page as well.
The holidaymakers then checked all airlines and found no charter flights had been booked for their trips.
Siripicha Ing-anuraksakul, a victim, said she did not join the direct sale operation but learned about the budget package tour from an online trade website.
She said she paid 10,000 baht for the trip and had no idea that it was a fee payment. After the payment was made, she was added to a group chat by a coordinator with 60 members who would travel to Japan together.
“When I arrived at the airport at 8pm, I couldn’t check in. I asked the coordinator and was told the flight was re-scheduled,” she said.
Another victim, who asked for anonymity, said she learned about the budget tour through a mobile chat application and decided to join the direct sales operation to get the cheap package tour.
She said she became suspicious when no one could give her flight information and she had to wait for flight confirmation, which never came.
Nirun Saentaweesuk from Ubon Ratchathani said he bought a package for 88,200 baht for himself and nine persons.
“I’ve decided to meet Suvarnabhumi airport police after finding out that I was conned,” he said.
Early yesterday, two women were detained by Suvarnabhumi airport police for questioning. Both said they were members of the direct sale operation and previously received package tours to Japan as rewards.
Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul yesterday inspected the situation at the airport.
Jirachai Moontongroy, permanent secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, said the Office of Consumer Protection Board found WealthEver Co has never been registered as a direct sale entity.
The company is registered with the Commerce Ministry as a wholesale distributor of non-alcoholic drinks. It was registered on Jan 25 this year with 2 million baht capital in Nakhon Sawan.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has instructed authorities to investigate and urged the public to cross-check information to avoid falling prey to scams.
Ms Kobkarn said authorities are considering charging the company for operating tourism activities without a licence.
If found guilty, authorised persons could face two years in prison and a 500,000 baht fine.
She said the ministry will campaign to educate people about the dangers of low-cost package tours.
Previously, cases of tourists being cheated by their tour agencies have arisen.
One of them was on Nov 11 last year, and concerned a trip of 150 members of the Lions Club International, of whom 80 were stranded at Suvarnabhumi airport, and only 70 of able to land in Hong Kong.