Nicha cleared of romance scam claims

Nicha cleared of romance scam claims

Nicha Kiartthanapaiboon, left, and her elder sister-cum-constant companion through the justic ordeal greet the media at Wednesday’s press briefing where she was formally declared innocent of involvement in the internet lonely-hearts fraud racket. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Police have cleared up accusations against Nicha Kiartthanapaiboon for allegedly colluding in a so-called romance scam and inventing an identity card theft story to avoid arrest.

“Ms Nicha and her family have done nothing wrong,” national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said yesterday after the 24-year-old woman underwent intensive interrogation and supplied evidence.

Pol Gen Chakthip said Tak police officers who had charged her previously with cheating must not further indict Ms Nicha for any alleged wrongdoings.

Ms Nicha was earlier jailed for three days after being charged with fraud, following a complaint with Tak police by one female victim.

Ms Nicha subsequently claimed she herself fell prey to a gang after her ID card was used to open bank accounts to receive money wired from the victims.

Police initially suspected Ms Nicha may have cried wolf after they found substantial transactions in her genuine bank accounts, including one she received from a gangster suspect. Police also questioned why Ms Nicha applied for ID cards frequently in the past.

The investigation found Pawina Singwibun, one of four suspects held in the case, did transfer money to Ms Nicha’s bank account, but this was Ms Pawina’s mistake which had nothing to do with Ms Nicha, the national police chief said.

Ms Pawina was allegedly hired by Cameroon national Simon Eko Ayuk to use stolen identity cards to open five bank accounts including those under Ms Nicha’s name. The gang made money from women tricked by its members exploiting love ties to gain their trust.

In one case, a victim named Kansini Yamao, 51, was fooled by the gang into transferring 1.3 million baht to Mr Ayuk’s gang.

“It’s Ms Pawina who wanted to snatch part of the victims’ money, so she transferred it to a bank account held by her under Ms Nicha’s name,” Pol Gen Chakthip said.

A glitch happened when Ms Pawina carried out a transaction via internet banking.

The system transferred the money to a genuine bank account of Ms Nicha.

This led to Ms Pawina using Ms Nicha’s ID card to make an immediate withdrawal.

Ms Nicha had dropped her card at a convenience store late last year. A staff member kept it for its owner, but it turned out Ms Pawina claimed the card, according to the investigation.

The officers found no irregularities in the six million baht in Ms Nicha’s real bank accounts. The money had been in her accounts since 2011, with no connection to fraudulent activity.

A phone number believed to be used by Ms Nicha’s younger brother to allegedly contact the gangsters was also a misunderstanding, he said.

It was a number Ms Nicha once used when she was in high school and its SIM was later used again by her younger brother to log into Facebook.

Two other female suspects in the widely publicised case are Cherati Saisin and Prompon Pongcharoenkunakorn who were hired to open three and two bank accounts respectively.