Pattaya Daily News

02 March 2009 :: 20:03:12 pm 1164

One Mans Crusade for Justice

This should be read by anyone interested in what happens when a foreigner in Thailand decides to single handedly take on the system and fight for justice. I hope that this account will offer some guidance to anyone in a similar situation.
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In November 2008 I received an email from “Alan” ( full name Ilhan Ozturk) asking for my assistance. I thought it was just another one of the many similar emails I’ve received from my readers over the last two years. However, even though his English was at times hard to understand, the story Alan had to tell attracted my attention.

I spoke to him on the phone and he decided to travel from Bangkok to Pattaya to see me at my office where we chatted for some time. I became very moved by what he told me and my interest was further aroused when I realized I was well acquainted with one of the key antagonists involved in his story.

 

At about 11:45 on the 5th December 2006, a speed boat operated by a well known local operator was carrying a group of Turkish tourists from Pattaya Beach to Koh Lahn island, a trip lasting just 15 minutes. The sea on that day was particularly rough and red flags were flying advising boats to stay ashore. The 19-year-old boatman ignored the warnings and headed at full speed for the island oblivious to the requests from the passengers to slow down.

At approximately 1 km from its destination the structure of the boat failed, the hull split and the vessel began to take on water and sink. The 18 passengers onboard then realized that their number was more than the boat’s official capacity of 12 and with a sense of panic discovered that there were only 13 lifejackets onboard.

The tour leader took command of the situation and told everyone to calm down, reassuring them that they were not far from the rescue services and help would arrive within 10 to 20 minutes. He handed out the limited number of lifejackets to the passengers, but not to himself, even though he knew he wasn’t a strong swimmer and wouldn’t manage to survive long in the water.

As the boat sank the passengers ended up in the rough sea swimming and hanging on to anything available to keep them afloat. Another boat passed by and managed to pick up a few of the passengers but inexplicably continued on its journey without waiting for additional help to appear.

The rescue team didn’t arrive until 2 pm, 2 hours after the accident. It remains a mystery as to why the rescue service, based on Koh Lahn just a few minutes from the scene of the accident, took so long to respond.Most of the passengers were in shock and two of them were admitted to the ICU at Bangkok Pattaya Hospital. The tour leader, who had remained calm and reassured his group throughout the crisis, disappeared into the sea and he was never seen alive again. The tour leader was Alan’s younger brother, Ilhami. He was 36 years old and married with a young son.

At the time Alan was running a restaurant in Pattaya and on hearing of the accident he rushed to the scene to help search for his brother. He contacted local officials to help with the search but none was forthcoming. Even the company which owned the boat was not interested in offering any assistance. To Alan’s surprise and dismay the search was called off after a few hours. No other attempts were made, either officially or otherwise, to find Ilhami’s body.

Two days later his brother’s body was found, purely by chance, by a fisherman. Alan assumed local officials would assist him with the necessary arrangements such as the autopsy and the procedure to send his brother’s body back home to Turkey. However, neither local and government agencies nor the boat company offered any help at all and the burden was on Alan alone, grieving at the loss of his brother, to fund the costs and take care of all the practical and legal formalities.

After sending his brother’s body home, Alan decided to sue the boat owner, who happens to be a well connected businessman in Pattaya who I’ll call “Mr. H”. Mr. H refused to take responsibility even though the boat was revealed to be in a poor condition and lacked a technical certificate and insurance. It was then suggested to Alan that he sue the boatman who had been charged with reckless operation of his motorboat. The boatman also had no licence.fter 2 long years the criminal case against the boatman finally ended. The young man confessed and he was punished with a jail term of two years. With no previous criminal record, the sentence was conditional and he was free to go back to his job driving rotten, uninsured boats from Pattaya beach to Kho Lahn every day.


Alan’s brother “Ilhami”

” I JUST WANT JUSTICE FOR THE DEATH OF MY BROTHER” Alan

By this time, in 2007, Alan had learned that there was more to the case than he previously realized. The boat owner, it seems, had friends in high places, including high ranking Pattaya officials and the police. His lawyer had suggested that Alan should sue Mr. H for negligence. It would be a civil case and might take some time, but it was the only way to get something out of this very influential and powerful man.

At our meeting in my office Alan showed me a big stack of documents including letters from his embassy, the TAT, the Minister of Transportation, The Pattaya TAT and the Pattaya City hall itself.

I really felt sorry for Alan, who was reaching the end of his tether. It also became very apparent he had difficulty communicating with his lawyer and I decided to get myself involved.


Mr. Sanit Boonmachai

Among the many officials Alan had tried to contact, but without success, was Mr. Sanit Boonmachai whose department at Pattaya City Hall has ultimate responsibility for the licensing and control of all marine vessels in Pattaya. Alan told me this man was very powerful. I smiled and told Alan “Yes, he is. I also know why this guy has been avoiding you”. Unbeknown to Alan, one of the main election canvassers for Mr. Satit and his team of officials was Mr. H.

That day we went to City Hall and, not surprisingly, Mr. Sanit was unavailable to see us and we instead ended up enjoying the hospitality and smiles of the City Hall secretaries and hostesses. We had lunch at a small restaurant where we spoke further and I could ask Alan what exactly he wanted.

He was now becoming very frustrated. His brother had been dead for two years. The boatman was forgiven and now back at work. Alan originally intended to sue the Mr. H for 12 million Baht but was told he needed to lodge security with the court, an amount which was beyond his means. He consequently reduced his claim to 1.6 million Baht.

I told him if he carried on with the court case, it could take up to 5 years to get the 1.6 million so it may be better to come to a compromise. Alan said he’d already had five such “compromise” meetings and four times Mr. H never turned up. It had already cost him a lot of money to travel back and forth from Bangkok to Pattaya and sometimes from overseas. At the last meeting, two months previous, the defendant’s lawyer said they agreed to pay 400,000 Baht.

Alan refused the offer and was really upset that such a small value was put on his brother’s life and the hardship facing his brother’s son and widow. Mr. H had also claimed Alan’s brother refused to wear a lifejacket and that at the time of the accident he was drunk.

Alan’s next meeting was to take place the following day at the Pattaya District Court, where I agreed to be his interpreter.

In the two months since the offer of 400,000 Baht, Alan had thought things through carefully and, with his mother now very sick back home, he had come to the decision he would just accept the amount on the table and put this all behind him, even though he instinctively felt the defendant would never actually pay.

Anyway, the next day we went to court. I also invited along an English friend as an observer. There were several cases to be heard that day, Alan’s being the last. The second case involved two young Thai men who were sentenced to 4 years in jail for stealing 10,000 Baht’s worth of electric cable. Police handcuffed the shocked pair and led them away as their families cried on the bench behind us.

The irony of their harsh sentence was not lost on us as we compared it to the levity of that handed down to the boatman responsible for the death of Alan’s brother and the suffering of the other passengers. Not to mention the loss of income of several million dollars to the Thai tourist industry following holiday cancellations in Turkey, where the case was widely reported in the media.

Mr. H hadn’t bothered to turn up and the reason why was plain when his representatives informed the court that the offer of compensation had been reduced from 400,000 to 100,000 Baht.

Alan was very upset and refused to accept that amount of money. The defendant’s legal counsel completely dominated the proceedings and I could see that Alan’s lawyer appeared hopeless and intimidated.

It was virtually impossible for Alan to put his case until, when we realized the opposition were asking the court to postpone the proceedings for another full year, we [Alan& I] had to raise our hands for permission to talk. Luckily the Judge listened to us and scheduled the next meeting for 23rd January 2009 when, she advised, Mr. H and his full legal counsel must be present.

And so it was that on the 23th January, we returned to the court again. In the meantime Alan had had more meetings with government officials in Bangkok who, it seemed, were becoming more sympathetic to his cause. One government department had ordered their Pattaya counterparts to send observers to the court.

This time Mr. H was present and sat with an air of authority and confidence bordering on cockiness. It was fascinating to see the change in his demeanor as a small group of uniformed officials, the observers requested by Bangkok, entered the court. He showed obvious surprise and a sense of uneasiness.The judge was not the same as before but once again Alan’s lawyer was obviously scared of the defendant. He hadn’t prepared the necessary papers and his performance was borderline incompetence. I did my best to help as friend and interpreter but I was limited as to how much I could get involved in the court proceedings.

Unfortunately, the case was once again postponed – this time until the end of this year (2009).

Although downhearted, Alan was encouraged by the court appearance of the official observers. He had also decided to give his case more publicity, especially outside Thailand.

With this in mind it now seemed a good idea to Alan to broaden the spectrum of officialdom involved. So we went to see the head of the Pattaya Immigration Police, Police Colonel  Arnonnun Kamollut who gave us a warm welcome and showed a genuine interest in Alan’s case. He even contacted two top ranking officers of the Tourist police and invited them to join us together with a lawyer and his assistant and some other officials. We all had lunch together and spent nearly two hours discussing Alan’s case and its implications. I must admit this show of support was unexpected and was certainly a morale booster for Alan.

It was agreed they would use their contacts and influence to try and persuade Mr. H to show some understanding and come to an amicable agreement with Alan.

We left the immigration office feeling very optimistic and Alan returned to Bangkok.


At the Immigration with Torist Police

Two weeks later, I received a call from the Pattaya Tourist Police. The news wasn’t good. They had approached various officials including the Pattaya City Mayor but no-one seemed interested in contacting Mr. H. Nobody cared.

And so, I have decided to publish Alan’s story. If we can’t help him here in Thailand, the least we can do is to bring his story to a wider international audience. Alan hopes that this will help Thailand to be a safer place. I also think there are some lessons to be learned here, for Thais and non-Thais alike.

I’m now back to my usual work routine again [with more emails from readers in need of help] but I still think of Alan every now and then.

Alan’s next day in court will be in December 2009. I know I’ll be there too and if anyone wants to join us, you are welcome.

Warina Punyawan
editor@pattayadailynews.com


20 March 2009

Meetings in Bangkok between Alan and Government officials have revealed some unbelievable, if not disturbing, facts.

It appears that the boat that sank near Koh Larn was not reported to the Bangkok Ministry of Transportation. No information or message was sent from Pattaya regarding the incident.

It was as if the vessel was a “ghost” boat which was never operated and could therefore never be involved in an accident.

The Inspector General of the Ministry of Transportation Khun Pawasut Chunganuwat was surprised to discover that everything was covered up in order to save the boat company, which was operating without no license or insurance.

The company didn’t need to go through the usual channels of authorisation, registration and insurance as, it seems, knowing influential people in the local government was enough insurance for them.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : Editorial

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