Activist groups are calling for answers as the extent of the third wave of the virus becomes clear and with a key House of Representatives committee chairman determined to bring officials and suspected cabinet ministers before a panel of enquiry after the Songkran holidays.
Police in Bangkok are investigating the Krystal Club, a high-end nightlife spot in Thong Lor, for links to prostitution as part of an intensive probe launched in the last week by Metropolitan Police Bureau Division 5. The local police commander, Police Major General Sophon Saraphat said, this week, that the owners may be summoned for questioning. He said if the club was linked to prostitution, it would face a 5-year closure order. The club is one of two nightlife venues in the fashionable Thong Lor district of Bangkok which are currently in the eye of a storm linked with the massive third virus wave that is spreading devastation throughout Thailand. The other venue is the Emerald Bar. Activist groups and key political figures are calling for answers and more information on the ownership of the business concerns whose managers were jailed last Friday for two months followed by the transfer of top brass at Thong Lor Police Station to inactive posts. This is not enough say campaigners as public ire over reports of top officials patronising the high-end establishments grows.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau has found itself in the spotlight as there are growing calls to identify the beneficial ownership of an exclusive nightlife haunt in the fashionable Thong Lor area of Bangkok which has become the epicentre of the third wave of the virus which is threatening to be the most severe to date.
On Sunday, Police Major General Sophon Saraphat, the commander of Division 5 of the police force, said his officers were looking into the operations of the Krystal Club and Emerald Bar in Thong Lor 13 to see if the establishments were venues where prostitution was solicited and also indicated that there were problems with the nature of the licences held by the business concerns.
On Tuesday, the Deputy Chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau Lieutenant General Piya Tawichai, confirmed that the two clubs were of singular importance in their links to the latest cluster of infection.
He also revealed that police have been ordered to examine all ownership and legal documents relating to the venues.
Venues have produced restaurant type licences say police but not the proper business permits
It is understood that police have been furnished with restaurant licences allowing the establishments to sell beverages and alcohol, however, Police Major General Sophon suggested that the nightspots did not have the proper business licences to operate.
The entertainment venues are currently subject to a 30 day closure order as police investigate further and it is being reported that an order closing the upmarket haunts, frequented by senior public officials and business tycoons, for five years may be forthcoming.
Two managers jailed for 2 months last Friday
On Friday last, the Bangkok South District Court sentenced the two managers of the Krystal Club and Emerald Bar each, to a term of imprisonment of two months after they pleaded guilty to violating the Emergency Decree and the Entertainment Place Act of 1978.
This was followed, over the weekend, by news that the two most senior officers at Thong Lor Police Station including Police Colonel Duangchote Suwanjaras, had been transferred to inactive posts while an investigation into the policing of nightlife venues in the district was carried out.
18 police officers at Thong Lor Police Station test positive for Covid-19, thought to have contracted the virus through the use of their hands
It is being reported that 18 officers at the station responsible for patrolling the areas surrounding the nightlife spots, identified as the centre of what could well be the country’s most devastating cluster of infection to date, have tested positive for Covid-19.
Officials have speculated that although the officers were wearing face masks on duty, they may have contracted the disease, the more infectious British variant, by using their hands to touch their faces while on duty.
Spiral in nationwide infection rate in Thailand which could reach as high as in excess of 28,000 cases in one day in a worst-case scenario, biggest wave yet
It comes as authorities, on Wednesday, reported 1,335 infections in Thailand with a predictive model drawn up by the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health suggesting infections could soar over twenty-eight thousand per day although regular spikes towards nine or ten thousand a day are more likely until this third wave is brought under control.
This is likely to be, by far, the most challenging wave of the virus yet.
On Wednesday, the Royal Thai Police announced that 252 officers had tested positive so far with 1,500 quarantined. 75 police officers have been hospitalised from the latest wave of infection.
Growing public anger voiced by activist groups
The growing seriousness of the situation has sparked public anger which has been voiced by activist groups who are seeking answers in particular in relation to the ownership and operation of the Krystal Club and Emerald Bar.
Anti drinks groups are now also calling for all pubs and nightlife venues to be shut, at least until this latest threat is brought under control.
Firebrand Bangkok MP vows to call all officials and cabinet ministers who attended the Thong Lor clubs before his parliamentary committee
There is also a political urgency to the situation as firebrand Bangkok MP, Sira Jenjaka, has vowed to call all officials and two cabinet ministers reported as patrons of the clubs, before his powerful committee on legal affairs, justice and human rights.
Bangkok MP will call to account cabinet ministers who he claims were at a Thong Lor nightlife spot (Click here to read)
Over the weekend, Mr Sira claimed to have photographs of two ministers at the venues and indicated that the source of the photographs was reliable.
He also called on the National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jangyodsuk to give the matter the highest priority.
Ticking time bomb for the government
The scandal, which is a ticking time bomb for the government, has seen an unlikely alliance between former political and massage parlour mogul Chuvit Kamolvisit and those calling for the nightlife industry to be reined in.
Over the weekend, Mr Chuvit, in a social media post, titillated the public’s appetite for further information on the Krystal Club by asking if authorities had identified the ownership status of the establishment.
Former massage parlour mogul emerges as a seeker of truth in the question of venue’s beneficial ownership
‘Has anyone ever wondered who the owner of Krystal Club is? What are the connections? Do they have an operating licence?’ he asked.
He later commented, after hearing of the arrests and jailing of the two managers at the Krystal Club and Emerald Bar as well as the transfers at Thong Lor Police Station.
‘Doesn’t the prime minister care to know who has caused damage to the country during the Songkran festival? I don’t think it will stop at the transfer of police.’
Anti drink network calls for suspected breach of junta orders on pub and nightlife to be investigated
Among those piling pressure on authorities to take further action in relation to the matter are groups such as Youth Network Against New Drinkers where Thanakorn Ngamyen has called on police to investigate the flouting of an order imposed by the military junta in 2015, 22/2558, which enforced strict closing hours on the nightlife industry and which many critics have suggested is one of the reasons for the downturn in the industry which is linked to the country’s once-thriving foreign tourism sector.
The activist called for robust action against all establishments found to be breaking the law.
‘The government must consider harsher penalties for operators which failed to follow the regulations, exposing their venues’ patrons to excessive risks of Covid-19 transmission,’ he declared. ‘Taking legal action against the clubs’ managers won’t be enough.’
Anti drink group wants all bars shut indefinitely
In a similar vein, Visanu Srithawongse of a group called Stopdrink Network suggests that all pubs and nightlife venues should be closed indefinitely until the Covid-19 situation has been brought under control.
Police commander looking at the ownership structure of the controversial business concerns
In the meantime, Police Major General Sophon Saraphat has told reporters that police are examining the ownership of the business concerns behind the two controversial night spots.
He indicated that the shareholding structures of the companies involved were being examined and a decision will be made shortly to invite the owners in for questioning by police.
Public anger is growing over the third virus wave
In the meantime, public anger over the situation is mounting according to Mana Nimitmongkol, the Secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) who has linked the latest cluster and wave to illegal activity behind the second wave of the virus which emerged last December.
‘This was also the case with the previous round of infections linked with illegal gambling dens and illegal migrants,’ he said and insisted that the public wants answers concerning reports of senior officials including, it is understood, cabinet ministers patronising the infected night spots in Thong Lor that have been reported.
‘Those ministers behaved improperly’
‘In this latest outbreak, those ministers behaved improperly, and this reflected a chronic problem regarding politicians’ ethical behaviour,’ he declared.
This stance was similar to Supat Hasuwannakit the President of Rural Doctor Society who, while speaking to the Bangkok Post newspaper said that politicians should be seen as role models by the public.
‘Cases involving VIPs must be investigated and questioned. This is part of our civic duty,’ he said.
Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob strongly denies frequenting such clubs although a 35-year-old aide at the ministry may have infected his team
In Buriram province, where Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob is being treated for a Covid-19 infection, a doctor there, Dr Phichet Phuedkhuntod, explained last week that it is thought that the minister contracted the disease from his aides which included a team of five bodyguards and a driver.
He explained they, in turn, had contracted the virus from a 35-year-old aide to the minister, named as Mr Rawit, who was known to frequent the clubs in Thong Lor.
The minister has denied and threatened to take legal action against reports last week which suggested that he had frequented clubs in Thong Lor including one report with a doctored photographic image circulating on social media.
He has also gone so far as to release information on his personal diary and work schedule to counter the claims saying he was far too busy at all times.