There have been media reports in recent weeks about incidents involving duty free shops at Bangkok airport. One particular case involved a British couple who were accused of stealing an item from a King Power duty free shop at Suvarnabhumi airport. They were arrested and apparently ended up paying a large amount of money to a man acting as a police intermediary and interpreter to get themselves free.
In the case above, the British people involved said they were innocent. King Power for their part have shown CCTV footage on their website and on Thai television which shows the accused woman putting an item (said to be a leather Givenchy wallet) into her bag and leaving without paying for it. According to King Power, when staff reviewed CCTV footage and noticed what had happened they alerted airport security in accordance with their procedures. By the time security caught up with the couple, the missing item wasn’t found in their possession. King Power say the issue then became a police matter over which they had no jurisdiction. It is whilst in police custody that the couple allegedly paid a large sum of money to a man called ‘Tony’, a Sri Lankan national who, according to some local reports, works on a voluntary basis for the tourist police in Bangkok.
I don’t know whether the couple are innocent or guilty, but since this story hit the news at least three more similar cases have also been highlighted involving Danish and Irish nationals. The incidents raise a number of issues.
Firstly, be careful when shopping at Bangkok airport because the boundaries between different shops and concessions aren’t always clear. With open-plan shopping arrangements it can be quite easy to pick up an item in one shop and without knowing it cross into the shop next door. Even if you intend to pay for the item, technically you have left the original shop without paying which is an offence which could potentially get you in trouble. If you look at it from the shop’s staff point of view, thousands of passengers pass through the shop every day and many of those passengers are carrying bags over their shoulders or holding jackets making it easier to shoplift without being caught. Of course, most people don’t shoplift, but a percentage do.
Check your Receipt
If you do buy an item, make sure you get a receipt and keep it on you. If it is a duty free item and you need to present your passport or boarding pass, make sure the name and product details on the receipt match yours and you haven’t been given the receipt of the previous customer.
If you are being falsely accused of something, contact your embassy in Bangkok. If you do find yourself in trouble with security officials or the police in Thailand, try not to panic. Although it might be a natural reaction, shouting and getting angry won’t get you anywhere in Thailand. In fact, it could get you in more trouble. Before you go to Thailand (or anywhere abroad) make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy which covers legal costs and public liability. If you are innocent, don’t pay any money to police, lawyers or any other officials. Make it clear to the police that you won’t sign anything until you’ve spoken to your embassy or the legal advisor appointed by your insurance company.
Keep it in Perspective
Millions of people exit through Bangkok airport every year with no problems, drama or hassle. Only a tiny percentage will get arrested. Of that tiny percentage some will be guilty. That leaves an even smaller percentage who are falsely accused or who are involved in misunderstandings. Scams and corruption do occur in Thailand, but not everybody is trying to scam you and not everybody is corrupt. As a tourist to any country you need to be vigilant and use some common-sense, but don’t be paranoid.