Re: Pattaya, Thailand :: New Blog with fresh, first hand views



This should be read by anyone interested in what happens when a
foreigner in Thailand decides to take on the system and fight for
justice and I hope that this account will offer some guidance to
anyone in a similar situation.

In November 2008 I received an email from “Alan” ( full name Ilhan
Ozturk) asking for my assistance. I thought it was just another one of
the many similar emails I’ve received from my readers over the last
two years. However, even though his English was at times hard to
understand, the story Alan had to tell attracted my attention.

I spoke to him on the phone and he decided to travel from Bangkok to
Pattaya to see me at my office where we chatted for some time. I
became very moved by what he told me and my interest was further
aroused when I realized I was well acquainted with one of the key
antagonists involved in his story.

At about 11:45 on the 5th December 2006, a speed boat operated by a
well known local operator was carrying a group of Turkish tourists
from Pattaya Beach to Koh Lahn island, a trip lasting just 15 minutes.
The sea on that day was particularly rough and red flags were flying
advising boats to stay ashore. The 19-year-old boatman ignored the
warnings and headed at full speed for the island oblivious to the
requests from the passengers to slow down.



At approximately 1 km from its destination the structure of the boat
failed, the hull split and the vessel began to take on water and sink.
The 18 passengers onboard then realized that their number was more
than the boat’s official capacity of 12 and with a sense of panic
discovered that there were only 13 lifejackets onboard.

The tour leader took command of the situation and told everyone to
calm down, reassuring them that they were not far from the rescue
services and help would arrive within 10 to 20 minutes. He handed out
the limited number of lifejackets to the passengers, but not to
himself, even though he knew he wasn’t a strong swimmer and wouldn’t
manage to survive long in the water.

As the boat sank the passengers ended up in the rough sea swimming and
hanging on to anything available to keep them afloat. Another boat
passed by and managed to pick up a few of the passengers but
inexplicably continued on its journey without waiting for additional
help to appear.

The rescue team didn’t arrive until 2 pm, 2 hours after the accident.
It remains a mystery as to why the rescue service, based on Koh Lahn
just a few minutes from the scene of the accident, took so long to
respond.

Most of the passengers were in shock and two of them were admitted to
the ICU at Bangkok Pattaya Hospital. The tour leader, who had remained
calm and reassured his group throughout the crisis, disappeared into
the sea and he was never seen alive again. The tour leader was Alan’s
younger brother, Ichami. He was 36 years old and married with a young
son.

At the time Alan was running a restaurant in Pattaya and on hearing of
the accident he rushed to the scene to help search for his brother. He
contacted local officials to help with the search but none was
forthcoming. Even the company which owned the boat was not interested
in offering any assistance. To Alan’s surprise and dismay the search
was called off after a few hours.

Two days later his brother’s body was found by a fisherman. Alan
assumed local officials would assist him with the necessary
arrangements such as the autopsy and the procedure to send his
brother’s body back home to Turkey. However, neither local and
government agencies nor the boat company offered any help at all and
the burden was on Alan alone, grieving at the loss of his brother, to
fund the costs and take care of all the practical and legal
formalities.





After sending his brother’s body home, Alan decided to sue the boat
owner, who happens to be a well connected businessman in Pattaya who
I’ll call “Mr. H”. Mr. H refused to take responsibility even though
the boat was revealed to be in a poor condition and lacked a technical
certificate and insurance. It was then suggested to Alan that he sue
the boatman who had been charged with reckless operation of his
motorboat. The boatman also had no licence.

After 2 long years the criminal case against the boatman finally
ended. The young man confessed and he was punished with a jail term of
two years. With no previous criminal record, the sentence was
conditional and he was free to go back to his job driving rotten,
uninsured boats from Pattaya beach to Kho Lahn every day.


Alan's brother "Ichami"
" I JUST WANT JUSTICE FOR THE DEATH OF MY BROTHER"

By this time, in 2007, Alan had learned that there was more to the
case than he previously realized. The boat owner, it seems, had
friends in high places, including high ranking Pattaya officials and
the police. His lawyer had suggested that Alan should sue Mr. H for
negligence. It would be a civil case and might take some time, but it
was the only way to get something out of this very influential and
powerful man.

At our meeting in my office Alan showed me a big stack of documents
including letters from his embassy, the TAT, the Minister of
Transportation, The Pattaya TAT and the Pattaya City hall itself.

I really felt sorry for Alan, who was reaching the end of his tether.
It also became very apparent he had difficulty communicating with his
lawyer and I decided to get myself involved.



Mr. Sanit Boonmachai
Among the many officials Alan had tried to contact, but without
success, was Mr. Sanit Boonmachai whose department at Pattaya City
Hall has ultimate responsibility for the licensing and control of all
marine vessels in Pattaya. Alan told me this man was very powerful. I
smiled and told Alan “Yes, he is. I also know why this guy has been
avoiding you”. Unbeknown to Alan, one of the main election canvassers
for Mr. Sanit and his team of officials was Mr. H.

That day we went to City Hall and, not surprisingly, Mr. Sanit was
unavailable to see us and we instead ended up enjoying the hospitality
and smiles of the City Hall secretaries and hostesses.

We had lunch at a small restaurant where we spoke further and I could
ask Alan what exactly he wanted.

He was now becoming very frustrated. His brother had been dead for two
years. The boatman was forgiven and now back at work. Alan originally
intended to sue the Mr. H for 12 million Baht but was told he needed
to lodge security with the court, an amount which was beyond his
means. He consequently reduced his claim to 1.6 million Baht.

I told him if he carried on with the court case, it could take up to 5
years to get the 1.6 million so it may be better to come to a
compromise. Alan said he’d already had five such “compromise” meetings
and four times Mr. H never turned up. It had already cost him a lot of
money to travel back and forth from Bangkok to Pattaya and sometimes
from overseas. At the last meeting, two months previous, the
defendant’s lawyer said they agreed to pay 400,000 Baht.

Alan refused the offer and was really upset that such a small value
was put on his brother’s life and the hardship facing his brother’s
son and widow. Mr. H had also claimed Alan’s brother refused to wear a
lifejacket and that at the time of the accident he was drunk.

Alan’s next meeting was to take place the following day at the Pattaya
District Court, where I agreed to be his interpreter.

In the two months since the offer of 400,000 Baht, Alan had thought
things through carefully and he and his girlfriend, whom he was due to
marry shortly, had come to the decision that they would just accept
the amount on the table and put this all behind them, even though he
instinctively felt the defendant would never actually pay.

Anyway, the next day we went to court. I also invited along an English
friend as an observer. There were several cases to be heard that day,
Alan’s being the last. The second case involved two young Thai men who
were sentenced to 4 years in jail for stealing 10,000 Baht’s worth of
electric cable. Police handcuffed the shocked pair and led them away
as their families cried on the bench behind us. The irony of their
harsh sentence was not lost on us as we compared it to the levity of
that handed down to the boatman responsible for the death of Alan’s
brother and the suffering of the other passengers.



Mr. H hadn’t bothered to turn up and the reason why was plain when his
representatives informed the court that the offer of compensation had
been reduced from 400,000 to 100,000 Baht. Alan was very upset and
refused to accept that amount of money. The defendant’s legal counsel
completely dominated the proceedings and I could see that Alan’s
lawyer appeared hopeless and intimidated.

It was virtually impossible for Alan to put his case until, when we
realized the opposition were asking the court to postpone the
proceedings for another full year, we [Alan& I] had to raise our hands
for permission to talk. Luckily the Judge listened to us and scheduled
the next meeting for 23rd January 2009 when, she advised, Mr. H and
his full legal counsel must be present.

And so it was that on the 23th January, we returned to the court
again. In the meantime Alan had had more meetings with government
officials in Bangkok who, it seemed, were becoming more sympathetic to
his cause. One government department had ordered their Pattaya
counterparts to send observers to the court.


This time Mr. H was present and sat with an air of authority and
confidence bordering on cockiness. It was fascinating to see the
change in his demeanor as a small group of uniformed officials, the
observers requested by Bangkok, entered the court. He showed obvious
surprise and a sense of uneasiness.

The judge was not the same as before but once again Alan’s lawyer was
obviously scared of the defendant. He hadn’t prepared the necessary
papers and his performance was borderline incompetence. I did my best
to help as friend and interpreter but I was limited as to how much I
could get involved in the court proceedings.

Unfortunately, the case was once again postponed – this time until the
end of this year (2009).

Although downhearted, Alan was encouraged by the court appearance of
the official observers. He had also decided to give his case more
publicity, especially outside Thailand. With this in mind it now
seemed a good idea to Alan to broaden the spectrum of officialdom
involved. So we went to see the head of the Pattaya Immigration Police
who gave us a warm welcome and showed a genuine interest in Alan’s
case. He even contacted two top ranking officers of the Tourist police
and invited them to join us together with a lawyer and his assistant
and some other officials.

We all had lunch together and spent nearly two hours discussing Alan’s
case and its implications. I must admit this show of support was
unexpected and was certainly a morale booster for Alan. It was agreed
they would use their contacts and influence to try and persuade Mr. H
to show some understanding and come to an amicable agreement with
Alan. We left the immigration office feeling very optimistic and Alan
returned to Bangkok.


At the Immigration with Torist Police


Two weeks later, I received a call from the Pattaya Tourist Police.
The news wasn’t good. They had approached various officials including
the Pattaya City Mayor but no-one seemed interested in contacting Mr.
H. Nobody cared.

And so, I have decided to publish Alan’s story. If we can’t help him
here in Thailand, the least we can do is to bring his story to a wider
international audience. I also think there are some lessons to be
learned here, for Thais and non-Thais alike.

I’m now back to my usual work routine again [with more emails from
readers in need of help] but I still think of Alan every now and then.

Alan’s next day in court will be in December 2009. I know I’ll be
there too and if anyone wants to join us, you are welcome.
.