Some applicants for Thai elite visa are wannabe criminals

Police are battling uphill against the growing issue of visa fraud.

Thai Privilege Card, formerly Elite, has been told to step up its security checks on applicants by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB). This follows the arrest of a Chinese national who, having obtained a five year visa which allowed him to enter and leave Thailand at will, laundered huge sums of money for call center scam gangs. CIB chief pol Lt. Gen. Jirabhop Bhuridej said that investigations into other gang members were underway whilst others are believed to have fled abroad.

There have long been concerns that the elite visa, which is issued by the Thai Privilege Card Company Ltd, can be misused by criminals. Although the immigration bureau is consulted prior to granting the visa, its role is limited to checking if the applicant is on the blacklist or is wanted by the Thai courts. For a five year, multiple entry, visa the applicant pays 900,000 baht but there are no compulsory checks on his or her financial sources.

The Tourist Authority of Thailand, which is ultimately responsible for this visa, said that some applications are refused after investigation. No public reasons were given but it is known that some nationalities, such as Iraq or Iran, are particularly at risk of denial. The CIB also operates an online scam operation center which tracks down illicit financial transactions and blocks illicit websites or fraudulent pages.

Scammers are now extending their strategy to use of cryptocurrency in an attempt to outwit the police. Critics say that the current Thai government’s policy of admitting tourists from more countries (including Russia, China and India) without a prior visa is just as serious for national security as the elite visa scams. Police Lt. Gen. Jirabhop said, “Our system makes it easy for anyone to do business here so giving a loophole for criminals to use Thailand as a base for money laundering.”

The Thai immigration bureau points out that neither tourist visa exemptions nor the elite visa allows foreigners to partake in work as defined by the alien labor legislation. Officers also stress that the establishment of trading companies by foreigners, using nominee Thai partners, is also illegal and is currently the subject of a national crackdown. The question, however, is whether sufficient resources are being devoted to visa abuse.