Thailand cracks down on currency fraud

Passing off fake banknotes can seem like an easy way to gain free services, but police warn that the consequences can be harsh.

By Adinan Malee for Khabar Southeast Asia in Betong, Yala

July 27, 2012
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Trafficking in fraudulent banknotes can result in a stiff prison term, Thai authorities warned this week, announcing the arrest of a Yala man suspected of circulating counterfeit versions of the Malaysian ringgit at local nightclubs.

  • One of the fake (bottom) 50 Malaysian Ringgit ($15.79) banknotes allegedly passed off as real by counterfeit suspect Somkiat Oo-seng. A genuine 50 ringgit bill is shown on top. [Adinan Malee/Khabar]

    One of the fake (bottom) 50 Malaysian Ringgit ($15.79) banknotes allegedly passed off as real by counterfeit suspect Somkiat Oo-seng. A genuine 50 ringgit bill is shown on top. [Adinan Malee/Khabar]

"I would like to warn the perpetrators that Thailand has harsh sentences for anyone convicted of this crime. Producers of fake banknotes are subject to life imprisonment, while those who knowingly pass off counterfeit currency can be imprisoned for up to 20 years," said Betong District Police Superintendent Colonel Suwat Wongpaiboon as the suspect was presented to the media on Friday (July 21st).

The accused, 32-year-old Somkiat Oo-seng, allegedly tried to use fake ringgit to pay for services at the Grandview Massage Parlor and Night Entertainment Complex in Betong Town on the night of July 16th, and again at the Betong City Plaza night entertainment complex two days later.

The merchants complained, and the Betong District Court issued an arrest warrant. Investigators tracked down the suspect to his home, located on Rattanakit Road in the subdistrict of Tano Maero.

Addressing the media, Somkiat said he had confessed to the crime.

"I got the fake banknotes in amount of 1,000 ringgit, or 10,000 baht ($316), from a friend who is a Malaysian tourist. I only passed them off at entertainment venues at night. I had 350 ringgit, or 3,500 baht ($110), left when I was arrested," he said.

Ringgit is commonly used in Betong, a border town with a bustling tourism industry that caters mostly to visitors from neighbouring Malaysia. At the current exchange rate, one ringgit is worth 10 Thai baht, making the currency conversion easy for tourists and businesses alike.

Unlike many other districts in Thailand's three Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, Betong has been little affected by the separatist attacks that continue to cause unrest in the region.

Currency fraud is a problem not only in border areas like Betong, but elsewhere in the country, according to Police Colonel Suwat. He warned merchants to be on the lookout.

"We would like to inform the public that the passing of counterfeit banknotes has been reported in many different parts of Thailand. Fraud gangs typically use them in busy or crowded areas to avoid detection, slipping one counterfeit bill into a stack of legitimate bills to avoid detection," Suwat said.

He urged the general public to be vigilant as well.

"If any member of the public comes into possession of a banknote they suspect may be a forgery, they should contact the Bank of Thailand website for more information," he said.

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