Thailand’s Immigration Bureau are investigating hundreds of bogus marriages between Thai women and predominantly Indian men, some of whom are described as a threat to national security. Hundreds of men have already been deported, with hundreds more expected to follow.
Dorse her marriage to an Indian man was not necessarily just following the path of true love, police suspect. Especially after a check of her background found she was already married to a Thai man with whom she had children.
Their concerns escalated after further checks revealed hundreds of similar cases where Thai women had sought official registration of their nuptials with Indian men unlikely to be their soulmates “Many of the couples behaved suspiciously,” Immigration Bureau chief Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn said, referring to the bogus marriages to foreign men that some tourists from South Asia are using as a front to conceal their crimes A number of suspects have been arrested and more targets are on the police’s list to investigate. Officers are stepping up efforts to put an end to a scam Pol Lt Gen Surachate describes as a threat to national security.
Crackdown on fake couples
The Thai septuagenarian and her Indian partner are not the first couple to try to fool the authorities of their undying love. Back in 2002, a report of seven bogus marriages in Bangkok garnered media attention and alerted police to a new immigration ruse. Indian nationals were often said to be keen to stay in Thailand beyond the remit of their tourist visas, and marriage can be used as a means to facilitate this. Police believe some visitors from India are seeking to take advantage of this and “they may commit crimes if we let them walk free,” Pol Lt Gen Surachate said.
At present, about 8,000 Indian nationals reside in Thailand on marriage visas with Thai nationals. More than 200 of them have been found to have violated laws, including conspiring with Thai women to counterfeit marriage, he said. All but 13 of them have been arrested, and 127 had their visas revoked and will be deported, Pol Lt Gen Surachate said. Police are also taking legal action against their “wives”.
The court granted warrants for the arrest of 31 suspects and 29, so far, have been detained. An Indian national identified as Vikrom Layehi, 35, has also been arrested for allegedly acting as a broker to forge marriage documents, Pol Lt Gen Surachate said, adding that 27 Thai women were also arrested on suspicion of marriage broking.
Crooked officials targeted
The flurry of cases of fake marriages emerging in many provinces has also prompted the government to keep a close eye on state officials suspected of being complicit in the crime. According to the Office of Public Sector AntiCorruption Commission (PACC), police reported 271 suspected bogus couples in Pathum Thani’s Muang district were registered in 2014 and up to 445 similarly fishy couples in Saraburi’s Wang Muang district. The following year, 709 unusual marriages in Nakhon Pathom’s Bang Len district and 242 more in Sam Phran district in the same province were reported.
The high number of cases prompted the PACC to set up panels to look into the allegations in each area. Progress in the investigations cannot be unveiled, but “the cases are not closed”, insisted Nathaphorn Sitthichai, a senior investigator at the PACC’s Bureau of Suppression of Corruption in Public Sector 1. “We’re waiting for the results.”
A PACC study, conducted late last year, found state officials can be bribed to skip some criteria required to register a marriage. They receive the applications from a representative or a broker and rubber-stamp marriages without either interviewing the couple in person or taking any further steps to verify whether they are even currently cohabiting To cover their tracks, they usually don’t record the couples’ information on the database. They just print out marriage registration documents to get their job done, the study found. “These officials are exploiting loopholes in the legal procedure,” Ms Nathaphorn said, citing the study.
No leniency for wrongdoers
By law, both Indian and Thai suspects will be charged with conspiring to deceive authorities. They can be jailed for a maximum of 10 years and fined up to 200,000 baht. According to the PACC, some women were lured into acting as wives after being offered between 8,000 and 10,000 baht by their “husbands”. However, Ms Nathaphorn said, another group of women were completely unaware their names had been stolen and illegally used by the Indian men.
“One woman found she was already married on the day she attempted to register her actual marriage with her husband,” she said. “Police will not be lenient with anyone who conspired to set up these fake marriages without the wives’ consent,” Pol Lt Gen Surachate insisted. Yet it is the subsequent crimes that the immigration chief is most concerned about. Some Indian men, who are allowed to stay in Thailand, are involved with the mafia or become drug traders for quick and large sums of money, according to the PACC.
Pol Lt Gen Surachate said some of the foreigners who used fake marriages to claim their visas are embroiled in activities such as setting up loan sharking businesses which take advantage of Thai people through extortionately high interest rates. He suspects “they may even be attempting to escape legal prosecutions in their own countries by coming to Thailand”.
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