Thai police today arrested five people involved in the prostitution gang which trafficked young women to China in a case which is seen as a breakthrough in the fight against the human trafficking trade.

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Royal Thai Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang at a press Conference in Bangkok on 4 August, 2015 during which Thai police revealed a breakthrough against a human trafficking gang involved in luring Thai women into prostitution in China, Malaysia and Singapore. Source: Reuters/Khaosod

In a press conference the Thai National Police Chief Pol General Somyot Pumpanmuang revealed the identities of the suspects as Sunatta Oopkaew, 32 years of age who was arrested by the police in Samut Sakhon, Srilakhon Thongkhao, 39 years of age arrested in Samut Prakan as well as Inthu-on Polpanchu and Pradit Thadee both 25 years of age and picked up in Bangkok. the fifth suspect was Jittanan Sithichai, 31 years of age brought by police from Phuket.

The gang which has been operating for over two years lured Thai women with the promise of lucrative jobs as ‘hooter girls’ in bars and restaurants in China. However this was scam and it was, in fact, a front for prostitution. Pol General Somyot Pumpanmuang told reporters yesterday that the police were still looking for four other suspects involved with the criminal enterprise and these included foreigners.

They also promised Thai women jobs in Malaysia and Singapore. The police revealed that this was an example of the human trafficking trade in Thailand and that they would update the United States of America on the progress of these investigations as part of Thailand’s campaign to crackdown on the epidemic. During the conference Police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri explianed that this gang was one of the 34 operating in Thailand and that the police operation had been reported as an update to the United States.

Arrests seen as part of crack down on human trafficking by Thai government

Thailand has shown increased resolve and determination in the last 12 months to deal with the human trafficking issue and the negative effect if has having on the country’s reputation. There was widespread disappointment in the country last month when it was revealed the United States had again confirmed Thailand’s status as a ‘Tier 3’ country for its failure to deal with the issue which is widespread throughout Asia. Malaysia is also on the list. The controversy regarding the abuse of Rohingya refugees and an elaborate human trafficking conspiracy is widely believed to have further Thailand’s reputation despite what many commentators agree is a sincere resolve to deal with the issue by the current Thai government.

Gang used popular social network websites to target Thai women online

Pol Maj-General Thiti Saengsawang, the boss of the Anti-Human Trafficking Force revealed that the human trafficking gang targeted young Thai women on social media websites such as Facebook and other popular websites. One of the gang befriended the Thai women online and offered them what appeared to be lucrative opportunities in foreign countries.

One of the gang arranged for for Thai women to travel to China in the company of two Chinese men named as Wei Kanghow and Keng Siangtan. The gang member organized for the passports prior to departure for China. On arrival in Chinese mainland, the Thai women were dismayed to find that they were imprisoned and forced into prostitution

One of the Thai women saved her friends when she feigned illness and agreed with their captors  to pay the sum 50,000 thai baht. Once the Thai woman arrived back in Bangkok,  she alerted the authorities in Thailand. The Thai government made contact with the authorities in China and an operation was launched to rescue the other Thai women still held captive

Jittanan Sithichai was identified as the owner of the phone used in the gang’s communications.

The police believe that there were more than 20 victims, since it was revealed that the credit cards of Srila-khon Thongkhao, one of the gang who was arrested Samut Prakan, had been used 23 times to buy plane tickets.