City of sin attracts British criminal tendency

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The Independent Online
Perched behind a coffee-stained desk in the cramped, smoke-filled offices of the Pattaya Mail, Amorn Malhotra leafs through his stack of poison-pen letters from the many he has lambasted in his weekly publication. But after more than four years of exposing the misdeeds of foreign criminals and local officials in southern Thailand's city of sin, he is undeterred by their threats of lawsuits, violence, or both.

"Pattaya is like a cowboy town in the Wild West a hundred years ago," he says, "it just needs a measure of law and order and many of us here are determined to introduce it."

Pattaya, with its prostitutes, go-go bars, sex shows and golden sands, has for years been a haven for sex tourists. But what worries the tolerant residents is an upsurge in violent crime following an influx of gangs - with interests in passport and currency fraud as well as child pornography and prostitution - from Russia, Japan and, most visibly, Britain.

"If people have done wrong at home and want to come here and begin a new life, that's fine with me," Mr Malhotra says. "But when they come and just continue their criminal ways, that's too much for the people who live here".

On Beach Road a British-run bar, The Dogs' Bollocks, declares "lager louts welcome" on its house T-shirt. Its skinhead patrons compare tattoos, drink beer and discuss criminal associates. One man, a Chelsea supporter, he says, tells stories of his "mates" who carried out the Brink's-Mat robbery, Britain's biggest gold-bullion theft. Others lamented Philip Mordue, a Londoner and regular in the bar who was shot through the neck across town a month ago.

"Pattaya is like Marbella was 10 years back, " says a diplomat in Bangkok. "Criminals from all over Britain and the rest of Europe have found sanctuary there, and they are living above the law." In the past year nearly 50 foreigners have been killed there, victims of gang vendettas or robberies undertaken while police are paid to turn away. Amid pressure from campaigners and diplomatic missions to tackle Pattaya's law-and-order situation, the Thai authorities have been promising action.

"We will make Pattaya a safer place and show the world that Pattaya is safe with as little disturbance as possible to local businesses," said police general Pornsak Durongkawebul in April. Within days, 1,000 officers were combing the streets of the town but no arrests were made and a leading member of the vice squad sent into Pattaya brought dishonour on the operation after he checked into a hotel with a prostitute, who robbed him of his phone, wallet and car.

As the police effort dissolved into farce, violence continued unabated. Geoffrey Chapman, 54, from West Yorkshire, was found dead in the harbour last month: a police report concluded it was suicide. But the Pattaya Mail, leading the campaign against organised crime, suspected otherwise. "The way the man was bound would have made suicide very difficult to commit, since he was tied up around his waist, legs, then finally to a rock and was thrown into the sea at high tide. The body wasn't found until low tide, making it appear that the man had hanged himself," its front-page report said. It went on to chastise the police for negligence and to name those it believed were responsible for the killing.

Scotland Yard and the British embassy in Bangkok treat the Pattaya Mail as a reliable source of information about southern Thailand's criminal underworld. "Our main aim is to provide a check on the activities of the wrongdoers here," says Mr Malhotra, who founded the Pattaya Mail with his brother Peter in 1993, "and to cast off the town's negative image to attract a better class of tourist".

A bout of publicity earlier in the year may have prompted concern that Pattaya's reputation had plunged too far. Tourists complained of being robbed after having their drinks spiked. In one case, a prostitute is reported to have rubbed a drugged gel on to her nipples. That story drew a pack of reporters from Europe, one with a pharmaceutical index to identify the substance. Mr Malhotra says he looks forward to the day when visitors have fewer tattoos and when journalists no longer write stories about Pattaya's dark side. But with recent headlines like "Body Found in Suitcase," and "Over-Zealous Lover Kills Mate," his own Pattaya Mail does little to counter the town's reputation as a hive of criminality.

As one observer notes: "Pattaya's residents want family values and respectability. But the town's poor image doesn't come from nowhere. Though beautiful, Pattaya is not Snow White - she does not have a jealous stepmother trying to poison her."