Police blotter: Pattaya expats at increased risk of arrest during pandemic

A tourist policeman warns foreigners not to socialize in groups which can be a happy hunting ground for the virus.

Pattaya’s beleaguered expat population should take extra care not to break the national and provincial rules on alcohol, drugs, gambling and partying. Acting chief of Chonburi police, Pol Major General Thiti Saengsawang, warned that crackdowns would continue because of the health dangers posed by coronavirus in the province. He recently organized the raid on a Jomtien condominium, hiding a nefarious gambling den in two adjoining flats, in which 16 non-Thais were arrested.

Other recent arrests involving foreigners have included alleged miscreants at a crowded Pattaya birthday party – social mixing is currently outlawed – together with incidents involving booze and prohibited substances at beach areas and in pubs. Total numbers of arrested foreigners are not released officially, but press reports and social media blogs suggest about 100 since Christmas 2020 in the Greater Pattaya area. However, crimes involving Europeans, Americans and Australians are more likely to attract attention in the English-language media than those concerning guest workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

Locals and expats are caught drinking in a bar which is supposed to be closed 24/7.

Witnesses say many of the farang involved are scarcely hardened felons but have been misled by their peers or by Thai acquaintances. “They are usually retirees or vacationers who have not yet returned to their home country,” said Khun Anan, a lawyer called to the scene of a recent mass arrest. “Because Pattaya is boring right now with entertainment places shuttered, some farang are easily seduced by claims from friends that a certain hotel pool is a private area, exempt from anti-booze regulations, or that gambling is OK provided playing cards rather than dice are used.” Or the other way round. Fake news of course.

Often, arrested foreigners plead with police to let them go as there has been a misunderstanding. In a recent case involving a local pub illegally serving booze, an Englishman told a startled police captain he had turned up only when assured by friends that police had already been paid off. A Frenchman claimed that he was innocently looking for his long-lost brother and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet another said that his Thai girlfriend had assured him that the alcohol restrictions had been cancelled that evening on national TV. 100 percent OK. But she turned out to be the daughter of the owner of the raided bar.

Potato chips are still OK, but this variety is a very different story.

The maximum penalties in the proclamations look very harsh – sums of 200,000 baht and/or two years in jail appear frequently in press reports. In reality, there is little sign that the penalties are being so rigorously enforced – unless the individual is the owner of the enterprise, or work permits are involved, or when drugs for possession or trafficking are found. That’s a different story. But simply being present at a booze party might result in a fine of 50,000 baht following a night in the police cells and a bail period lasting several weeks. You might have a lawyer to pay as well.

Very minor infractions, such as sitting in a close group on the beach or being without a mask outdoors, are usually handled by a warning rather than an arrest for first-time lapses. However, the most recent provincial edict specifies a fine of up to 20,000 for non-mask wearers in public. The lucky ones might even escape with an oral warning.

Most observers say these penalties together with all the accompanying dislocation of private life are sufficient to prevent reoccurrence. A bail broker at Pattaya court told Pattaya Mail that jail and deportation are seldom inflicted on farang for small breaches of the regulations because of the dangers inherent in herding extra people into overcrowded prisons, whether serving their sentences or awaiting deportation procedures which can be lengthy. Nonetheless, better be safe than sorry. Be sure your sins will find out you out. Even in Sin City.