US plays up Russian gangs in Thailand
By Richard Ehrlich
BANGKOK - America's Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement
Administration, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies were
investigating "Russian organized crime networks" who were murdering and
stealing in Thailand's most popular tourist beach resorts, according to a US
Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks.
Thailand, a modernizing, Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation, has
attracted criminals from all over the world who exploit its friendly ambiance,
low-cost workers, often corrupt officials and sophisticated forgery and sex
The "confidential" US cable was headlined: "RUSSIA LOOKS TO REINVIGORATE
BILATERAL RELATIONS WITH THAILAND, AGAIN," dated December 4, 2009, and
classified by the
embassy's deputy chief of mission, James Entwistle. It was also signed off by
ambassador Eric John, who noted "this cable was coordinated with [the US]
Embassy [in] Moscow".
At the time, the US Embassy was also concerned about the ongoing extradition
trial of alleged Russian weapons smuggler Viktor Bout - who was sent from
Bangkok nearly one year after the cable was written to stand trial in New York
for allegedly trying to sell weapons to be used to kill Americans in Colombia.
A previous leaked document by WikiLeaks revealed the US Embassy had created a
"Bout team" of diplomats to ensure his extradition.
"Thailand enjoys a rapid expansion of Russian tourists visiting Thailand, but
has to deal with an unwanted side effect - the presence of Russian organized
crime networks around the popular beach destinations of Pattaya and Phuket,"
warned the cable, focusing on the hedonistic destinations that appear in tourist
brochures and advertisements throughout the world.
"Russian organized crime circles established a presence in Thailand in the
1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union," the US Embassy said.
"A number of US law-enforcement agencies are involved in investigating or
monitoring cases involving Russian organized crime in Thailand, in cooperation
with Thai partners, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug
Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security's
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"These law-enforcement agencies report that criminal networks composed of
mostly Russian nationals operating in Pattaya and Phuket are responsible for
the commission of numerous crimes, including extortion, money laundering,
narcotics trafficking, real estate fraud, financial fraud, human smuggling,
pandering, counterfeiting, document fraud, cybercrime, and illegal importation
of cars" and killings.
"While much of the Russian organized criminal activity in Thailand has occurred
quietly, three specific cases generated public awareness of the phenomenon. In
April 1998, Russian restaurant owner Konstantine Povoltski was found shot dead
in a car near one of his two restaurants in southern Pattaya.
"In August 2003, police apprehended three Russian bank robbers when their
speedboat ran out of fuel, after they held up the Bank of Ayudhya in South
Pattaya, stole 2.4 million baht [US$80,000] and killed a Thai police officer in
the process. Rinat Koudaiarov was sentenced to death for the shooting.
"In February 2007, two Russian women were found murdered on the beach of
Jomtien 10 km [six miles] from Pattaya, amidst speculation that it had been a
Russian OC [organized crime] ordered hit."
The US Embassy cable also scrutinized Moscow's influence on Bangkok's economy,
diplomacy and culture.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "highlighted Russia's eastern
territories as holding natural resources - such as oil, gas and coal - that
could become the means to further engage with countries like Thailand," during
Lavrov's July 2009 visit to Bangkok, the cable said.
"Lavrov announced Russia's interest in developing a regional facility in
Thailand for storing, processing and trading Russian oil and gas," the US
During Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Sobyanin's November 2009 visit to
Bangkok where he met with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, "Sobyanin looked to
increase trade and investment, signaled Russia's willingness to cooperate with
Thailand in research and development in the oil and natural gas sector, and
underscored Russia's desire to cooperate with Thailand on security and culture
United States diplomats questioned prominent Thais to find out how Moscow's
intentions, strengths and motives fit with Bangkok's needs. The cable reveals
who Washington considers its trusted contacts on Russo-Thai ties.
An official from Thailand's Foreign Affairs Department of European Affairs,
Wacharin Vongvivatachaya, told the US Embassy "trade and tourism were the most
important elements to the Thai-Russia bilateral relationship. For Russia,
Thailand was its number one trading partner in Southeast Asia with trade
accounting for over $1 billion annually," compared to US-Thai trade which
exceeds $30 billion a year.
"Wacharin stated that Russia's main exports to Thailand were rolled steel,
scrap metal, fertilizers, unprocessed minerals, synthetic rubber, diamonds,
pulp, and paper. Thailand's main exports to Russia were sugar, rice, gems,
clothes, shoes, canned food, and furniture.
"Thailand's premier multinational, the CP Group, had invested in Russia by
establishing an animal food producing factory in Moscow's suburbs, Wacharin
added, though there has been little Russian investment in Thailand, mainly in
small businesses," it said.
"The opinions of non-official Thais we talked to about the Russian diplomatic
push was in general rather dismissive. Professor Rom Phiramontri, Director for
the Center of Russian Studies at Chulalongkorn University, commented that in
general Russia has had very little influence in Asia, particularly in Thailand.
"In his opinion, Russia was attempting to gain more influence with Thailand,
geographically in the center of ASEAN, in an attempt to expand influence
throughout the region, especially economically," the cable said, referring to
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that includes Thailand, Myanmar,
Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and
Professor Kantassa Thunjitt from Thammasat University's Russian Studies Program
"told us that Russia was trying to play a larger role in Southeast Asia, noting
it has attempted to raise its status in the region by offering itself as an
alternative to the US and China".
Thailand's US-trained military staged a coup in September 2006 and toppled a
popularly elected prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who had ruled for five
years and is currently in self-exile dodging a two-year prison sentence for
"Bangkok Post Senior Reporter Achara Ashayagachat told us recently that Thaksin
had looked to Russia to expand market opportunities. Achara also believed that
Thaksin sought to balance Thailand's relationships with both the US and China
through engaging Russia, while simultaneously looking at ways to maximize
The US Embassy expressed interest in the diplomatic and cultural relations
between Bangkok and Moscow, which it traced back to when "King Chulalongkorn
and Tsar Nicholas II exchanged reciprocal visits in 1909-1910, and the Tsar
provided what many Thais consider a critical boost to Siam's [Thailand's
previous name] independence in the face of British and French pressure on
Siam's borders and sovereignty," the cable said.
"Wacharin Vongvivatachaya told us that Thai-Russian relations peaked during
Queen Sirikit's State visit to Russia in July 2007.
"During the Queen's trip, she visited Moscow and St Petersburg, met [outgoing
president Valdimir] Putin and then First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev,
and was deeply impressed by the Mariinsky Ballet. As a result, the RTG [Royal
Thai government] arranged for the Mariinsky to visit in December 2007 to
perform for King Bhumibol's 80th birthday," the cable said.
Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California. He has reported news from Asia since 1978 and is co-author of the
non-fiction book of investigative journalism, Hello My Big Big Honey!
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His website is