Association of Thai Travel Agents says it welcomes government efforts to crackdown on the so-called mafia style influence in tourist destinations across the country.

“It can only do good and rebuild a good image for the country to crackdown on illegal activities at tourist resorts,” ATTA president, Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, said at the association’s meeting, Thursday.

Phuket was specifically mentioned as a priority for immediate action.

“The Ministry of Tourism and Sports and Department of Special Investigation inspected Phuket, Thursday, to assess the impact of mafia gangs on the tourism business specifically illegal taxis and tour operators who are fully owned by foreigners.”

The president urged the association members to conduct their business according to the law and abide by regulations to ensure competitiveness and quality.

Authorities say they will crack down on foreign mafia gangs who victimise tourists in Phuket.

Earlier, tourism minister, Somsak Pureesrisak, said there were many complaints including those from foreign embassies that were responding to reports by their citizens. Most of the complaints focused on mafia-style gangs forcing tourists to use unlicensed taxis that charge a much higher rate than normal.

The rip-offs start at the airport where taxis charge some of the highest tabs in the region. Most of the resorts are located 30 to 40 km from the airport, but even short transfers from one beach to the next are costly.

The minister cited complaints that focus mainly on Russian nationals.

“Many Russians hire Thais as nominees to run restuarants, souvenior shops, and beach-bed rental services that exploit tourists. These businesses have not generated any income for Thailand. Most, if not all, of the earnings go into the foreigner’s pocket.”

DSI chief Tarit Pengdith said the department considers mafia-style gangs as special cases.

“We have been gathering information for some time and found that in some cases, the mafia gangs have even barred ambulances from picking up patients at hotels. The patients were made to take unlicensed-taxis when they wanted to leave some hotels.”

He said the authorities would revoke the visas of foreigners who engage in illegal activities and their assets in Thailand would be seized.

According to Ministry of Commerce, 56 companies in Phuket are suspected of breaching the Foreign Business Act (FBA) by having Thais acting as nominees so that foreigners can hold majority control.

A total of 153 companies were investigated by the ministry.

Deputy Commerce Minister, Natthawut Saikua, said most of the suspect companies were owned by Russians and were involved in food and beverage enterprises or financial agencies.

“The Business Development Department will continue its investigation into all 56 companies by questioning their directors and examining documents. If any of the businesses have committed offences, their cases will be forwarded to state agencies for prosecution.”

Among the 56 suspected companies in Phuket, 24 firms have been set up this year and are not yet operating, 13 are listed in Annex III of the FBA, eight have not cooperated in the investigation and three companies failed to respond when contacted by the authorities.