PHUKET: A major audit is beginning into the bank accounts and financial affairs of former Patong Mayor Pian Keesin, other Phuket office-bearers and all the arrested taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, a Phuket investigation leader said today.
''We have done some work in Patong but there is a lot more investigating to be done yet,'' said Major General Praveen Pongsirin. ''I can confirm we will be looking closely at Khun Pian, but not at his son Prab at this stage.''
The probe into the taxi and tuk-tuk mobs will shift to their paper trails today as investigators from the Anti-Money Laundering Office and the Office of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission join the pursuit.
Extortion and intimidation extending back years remain at the heart of the alleged crimes.
Major General Praveen, a former deputy commander on Phuket who was reassigned earlier this year to lead the probe into Phuket's taxi and tuk-tuk ''untouchables,'' said the task force had taken on the Kata-Karon gangs first. Patong would be next.
''The difference is that the Kata-Karon ranks are in the hands of many people,'' the major-general added, ''But in Patong, the tuk-tuks and the taxi drivers have just a handful of leaders.
''Witnesses from Patong have been calling me already today,'' said Major General Praveen, whose telephone number is 081 8936083.
As revealed exclusively on Tuesday by Phuketwan in advance of the move against the mobs on Wednesday, 1150 soldiers, police and volunteers have been rounding up scores of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers.
These men, mostly shocked now that they have become the focus of the law, have allegedly been standover outlaws who ruled in the west coast tourist centre of Kata-Karon with officials' help for at least 20 years.
So far, the major general said, there have been 95 arrests, with 13 more still covered by warrants that will be executed at the first opportunity. About 30 were believed to have been granted bail in as special late-night session of the Phuket Provincial Court on Thursday evening.
Four who were bailed earlier at the Phuket City Police Station on health grounds included the Kata-Karon Mayor, Tawee Tongcham. The mayor is said to have approved the taxi drivers at one rank and possibly more using public space and tapping into water and electricity with his permission.
Pian Keesin is reported to have been in touch with Major General Praveen. His son Prab, who is on the committee that oversees the running of Kathu Police Station in Patong and who is seen as a civic leader in the Patong community, denied any guilt via a Facebook posting last night.
The arrival of the recently arrested taxi and tuk-tuk drivers is likely to swell the number of inmates at Phuket Prison beyond the 2807 listed inside on Wednesday, a record number that is believed to have attracted scrutiny and criticism of conditions from the International Red Cross.
A campaign ordering all of Phuket's municipal authorities to demolish the huts used by the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers as bases across the island is expected to continue over the weekend.
Many of the 3000 to 4000 drivers across Phuket who have so far not been affected are waiting to see what happens next.
The crackdown has been driven by complaints by tourists that have been passed on to honorary consuls and embassies over the years. Only with the May 22 coup have police and Phuket authorities finally had the courage and muscular Army backup to act against the so-called taxi and tuk-tuk ''mafia.''
Drivers in Patong especially have been accused down the years of a strong connection with the trade in illegal drugs.