Authorities in Thailand arrested more than a dozen people who they believed were behind the online gambling websites that generated THB100 million (US$2.85 million) monthly, local media reported.
Thai officials made a sweep of 18 locations across Bangkok on Wednesday, which led to the arrest of the 16 individuals believed to be the clerical staffs in call centers taking bets and handling accounts, according to a Thaivisa News report.
Officials said the arrested—all of them Thai nationals—will face charges of money laundering and advertising gambling, which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines of THB5,000.
Some 50 computers, communication equipment, bank books and accounts were seized from the offices. Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) chief Pol Colonel Sihanart Prayoonrat told The Nation that they have already frozen a total of THB10 million in 38 bank accounts that were allegedly held by members of the gambling network.
Thailand’s outdated 1935 Gambling Act bans all forms of gambling in the country, except for horseracing and the lottery, prompting many punters to use online methods to place their bets on internationally-licensed online operators.
The local Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) has been tasked to investigate such operations, but agency officials admitted that they do not have “the authority to arrest gambling operators outside the country” or even block the websites that hold international licenses.
The agency, however, may soon find an ally in the military.
Early this week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha bestowed “broad new police-like powers” to Thailand’s military forces, enabling them to arrest and detained criminal suspects amid the government’s crackdown on civil liberties.
The order, titled “Suppression of wrongdoings that could threaten Thai economy and society,” gives army, navy and air force soldiers with sub-lieutenant ranks and higher “the power to summon, arrest and detain suspects in a wide range of crimes for up to seven days,” according an Associated Press report.
With their new powers, Thai soldiers can now act against people suspected of committing any of the 27 types of crime, including extortion, human trafficking, robbery, fraud, forgery, defamation, debt collection, gambling, child protection, prostitution, loan sharking and tour guide services.
The Bangkok Post quoted Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan saying the soldiers can also act as interrogators since there’s not enough police to take on crime in the country.