BANGKOK: Authorities today (Sept 9) impounded 2,155 buses and froze bank accounts containing B4.7 billion held by the country’s biggest “zero-dollar tour” network, including OA Transport Co and 381 firms.

Tourist police and officials from the Anti-Money Laundering Office and the Revenue and Business Development departments swooped on the premises of OA Transport Co in Lat Krabang district of Bangkok after its executives had been charged with carrying on business illegally and damaging Thai tourism.

The action followed Tourist Police searches of OA Transport and four affiliated companies in the Lat Krabang and Jorakhae Noi areas of Bangkok last month.

Two OA executives, Nisa Rojrungrangsi and Wasurat Rojrungrangsi, turned themselves in at the Phaya Thai Police Station for questioning late last month.

Tourist Police moved the buses to the nearby Airport Rail Link station of the State Railway of Thailand. Land Transport Department officials will check if any of them were used illegally. An initial examination found that some of the buses were unregistered, police said.

OA Transport operated the bus that came crashing down Kata Hill in Phuket in March last year, killing three Chinese tourists and injuring 15 more.

The bus crashed through a guardrail while descending the hill to Chalong and came to rest only after slamming into trees halfway down the steep slope, preventing the vehicle from tumbling into a house just metres below. (See story here.)

Gen Surachet said the Land Transport Department was deploying buses to serve tourists who were clients of OA Transport and the 381 related companies as their operations must stop.

The raid was part of attempts to tackle “zero-dollar” tour operations to protect Thai tourism, Gen Surachet said.

Raided last month were OA Transport Co, a vehicle-rental firm, Bangkok Handicraft Centre Co, which sells leather goods; Royal Gems International Co, a jewellery firm; Royal Thai Herb Co, which sells herbal products; and Royal Paradise Co, which runs restaurants.

The five companies operate stores in tourist destinations nationwide, including Phuket.

Zero-dollar tours are so named because they offer very cheap package deals in which tourists, mostly Chinese, are pressured to buy overpriced goods and services on which the operators make big profits.

Authorities have long alleged that the money Chinese tourists spend in Thailand on zero-dollar tours mostly goes to Chinese-operated tour firms owned by Thai nominees.

source – thephuketnews