Before addressing this topic, I would like to emphasize that Thailand is generally a safe country, and much safer for tourists and expats than the vast majority of other countries.
However, Thailand is know for attracting a lot of foreign criminals and thugs. You need to be careful about your associations in Thailand. There's an old acronym TIT, "This Is Thailand", which is often used to refer to this element.
As a businessman, once you start getting involved in business and the expat community in Thailand, you will probably start finding out about how some people don't play by rules of normal business ethics here. It only takes one of them to cause you serious problems. I will discuss some examples later in this article, but first I want to cover some other elements of the environment here, which I believe spill over into some parts of the business world by proximity, but depending on the individuals and companies involved.
As for social tourists, especially one who hangs out in the nightlife areas, you might be surprised about what some of your friends and associates really do or have done here in Thailand, if you establish a longterm relationship with their group of trusted peers whereby you eventually find out. Some start by doing good business, then slide into bad business under the influence of their peers, or just by living beyond their means. Others start by doing bad business.
Many guys come to Thailand and become first-time criminals here after associating with a group of guys like this, taking on their norms, outlook, and behaviors, as if being a criminal is normal in Thailand.
Why does Thailand attract these kinds of people?
Some expats here have been doing drugs or drinking alcohol so long that they are brain damaged. Of course, they usually think they're normal. The symptoms of this include emotional outbursts, lack of self control, and inability to deal with conflicts reasonably, and irrationality (including rationalizations to the extreme, and of course they feel they are right). Add in a big ego and criminal money and you have a monster in the making.
When some thugs get money and power, and get away away with questionable actions for a long time, the power goes to their head, and they get progressively more abusive, adopting a wider variety of means. Money and power corrupt some people terribly.
However, in all of these situations, you ultimately have little to fear because if you are treated in a questionable way, and should not be afraid of crooks, because you can always appeal to a higher power than theirs, especially if you don't have majorly questionable blemishes on your record yourself, and if your paperwork is fairly well in order. It's good to become a known entity among government higher ups who can go to bat for you if necessary, to defuse a situation and perhaps even deal with the crooks.
However, keep in mind that two wrongs don't make a right, and don't play monkey-see-monkey-do with bad karma, lowering yourself to their level. Revenge is for obsessive egotists. It's often best to leave crooks to stew in their own juices within their gangs. They will probably get what's coming to them within a few years due to this kind of behavior, and even if they don't, what kind of spiritually vacuous life is that?
An engineer with a highly successful company in his home country and internationally came to Thailand to import his energy product. His foreign partners had good credentials and were established in Thailand much longer than himself, and handled the legal paperwork, making him sole Managing Director as required for the investment. He knew them as trustworthy in his home country. What he was slow to realize is that they had become entwined in the shady side of Thailand. Alcoholics, too. The company had good business but his partners set up another business and came to control the inventory and some naive customers. They basically stole nearly everything in inventory and didn't pay back any investment or deferred salary. This was apparently not all done legitimately, but it probably would have sat in the courts for years, and one of his partners even threatened to have a hit man pair on a motorcycle eliminate this founding engineer if he pushed too much. His partners now had money, power, a peer group of thugs, maybe no other means of income, and irrational alcohol pickled brains that could rationalize anything within their peer group. (Other cases, with variations of this, have occurred.) This sort of thing can be defused, but you might just want to walk away and be not threat to them rather than try to get stuff back and deal with all that stress, hassle and risk. Just legally protect yourself from further liability.
At a professional social among people involved in the engineering, construction, and related community, the kind that is attended by mainly Managing Directors, upper management, and salespeople, and nearly everyone is in business attire, there was a subgroup of half a dozen people on the side with a lawyer among them, and they were discussing legal liability and other issues as regards construction projects. One of the men told the lawyer about a subcontractor who had completed their commitment (construction or/and supplying equipment, I don't remember, but it was a substantial sum of money with probably a small profit margin to the supplier). The man told the lawyer that when they signed the contract a long time ago, the person who signed on behalf of his company didn't actually have signatory authority according to the company bylaws. I think it was a senior engineer who signed the contract, but not the Managing Director. The man asked the lawyer what would happen if his company refused to pay on this technicality, and he seemed quite serious to me. The lawyer said the company didn't have to pay. Another attendee said he had experience with this, and he agreed with the lawyer. Understand, the lawyer and all the other expats worked for reputable multinational companies. Nobody objected, so I raised the question about whether the work was satisfactory, but that was deemed irrelevant. That guy didn't seem worried about his company's reputation, either, like "This Is Thailand" and normal here. It's not normal, but if you hang out with a peer group of crooks then it may seem normal in your microcosm.
Note: I believe the company would still be liable for paying that bill, given all the documentation. I am not at all convinced that the abovementioned lawyer's opinion is right (and obviously, it was the kind of lawyer looking for any kind of business taking the side of most any kind of customer, you know the sort... "the lawyers always get paid", win or lose). In any case, if you have a contract to sign with another company, then to minimize any potential hassles and delays, you should be aware that the Thai government provides an on-line way to check who has signatory authority, among other things, at the on-line Department of Business Development's company information database at http://www.dbd.go.th/corpsearch/index.phtml?type=m. It is in Thai, and if you don't have someone to help you, then you can get a quick translation via our translation division at www.ThaiEnglish.com , as we get requests for this kind of information often. When someone signs, get a signed copy of their passport, as is standard in major transactions in Thailand (and a copy of any Thai ID card). However, when you provide the same, handwrite on top of the passport photo "For the purpose of contract ______ with _____" so that nobody can take your signed copy of your passport and use it for something else.
A potential customer, actually a group, came to me for assistance in setting up a company, along with soliciting other advice as Thailand Guru. However, in a long conversation, as the discussions about their plans went along, they revealed some rather nefarious methods they intended to use to damage their competitors (which I would rather not repeat and give any crooks any ideas). Mind you, these were all foreigners coming to Thailand wanting to get greedy and steal business from their Thai competition, not by providing better quality of service but by tricky means. They treated their competitors (and other people) like they were just objects in a competitive game for business and money, not seeing these established competitors as hard working companies who had employees with families and who might care about their customers. I tried to open their minds, but they could only see money and had their own pack mentality. (I later told them I didn't have time to do their case, but they had lost interest in me anyway, thank goodness.) (I've actually encountered this multiple times, and come across variations of this elsewhere, too -- people trying to damage competitors. It's not common, but it does happen.)
A western family member inquired about their son being involved with a beautiful Thai lady who had recently been put in jail, and their son had been going thru extraordinary amounts of money, tens of millions of baht. Our investigation revealed that his girlfriend had allegedly killed her Thai common law husband who was also her business partner, and in addition to taking over his business assets, also staked claim to many millions of baht as the beneficiary of his substantial life insurance policy (and there were questions of whether he was even aware of that life insurance policy taken out very recently). The police were diligent and had what looked like a rock solid case (can't go into details), despite witness intimidation, but it appeared the judge was bribed. In the short period before appeal, she fled Thailand. Low level judges can sometimes be bribed, but appeals courts are a different matter.
Countless scams. Even when stock and forex scam boiler room operations were busted, those caught were eventually released with hardly a slap to the wrist. The bigger the scam, the lower the chance it will really be dealt with substantially in the end. (However, I can also say that some authorities had less compassion for "get rich quick" victims who fell for these silly scammers, blinded by their own greed. That is much different from legitimate companies or people getting scammed. I know this is a controversial remark, but it is my observation. Nonetheless, the "protection" of the scammers is remarkable. They made lots of money to pay for this protection.)
Countless cases of threats, assaults, and damages to others' businesses just because they happened to argue and implicitly insult a thug with a big ego, such as over a practical business matter or/and personal betrayal of trust. Be careful about anyone whose ego is easily bruised, because your mere words can lead to their sticks and stones behavior.
I have noticed these traits in many (but not all) criminals here:
My father, a psychologist who assessed quite a number of criminals in his consulting work, used to comment about how far gone and clueless so many of these people are, yet they delusionally think they're on top of the world, the winners, the top dog. (Well, maybe the top soi dog.) (My father also assessed applicants for the priesthood, and other kinds of roles in his consulting work.)
You might think that the Thai people, in their gentle ways, would reject these criminal gangs. Officials at the top have mandated a tightening of rules throughout the bureaucracy, but that requires continued diligence in enforcing things down the line. Money talks at the lower ranks of bureaucracy, and there just isn't the I.T. auditing in place yet. If something sensational happens in the news or if ministers get concerned and demand a crackdown, the rules might tighten for awhile, but eventually things blow over and back to "normal" -- "This Is Thailand".
When you look at some kinds of transnational organized crime, you sometimes wonder whether the top criminals will essentially control and "colonize" Thailand using countless Thai proxies and pawns who "sell out" or prostitute their country for selfish greed. Stooges.
Foreign criminals do not bring in the beneficial traits of their other cultures, but instead bring to Thailand some of the worst sort of traits from other countries.
Hassles and violence against foreigners is significantly more taboo than the same against Thais, but it happens, especially foreigner against foreigner.
Some foreign gangs are even more dangerous because they do not first attempt the Thai style of a negotiated settlement or warning shots. Indeed, some try to go eliminate the target before anyone detects any warning signs.
Sometimes, it might not even be anything financial. Maybe they just don't like you. Maybe it's envy. It has happened, and who knows what goes on in the minds of crazy gang pack animals...
There are hundreds of known "gunmen" in Thailand who are totally free in society (if not thousands, if you count those not close to visible organized crime figures). Some killers are fairly discriminate, but many are not. The prices are remarkably cheap, and some of them will even kill for free on behalf of a gang master, just for the sadistic pleasure or thrill of it, and to gain rank in the pack. They have no respect for life at any level, little conscience, and little grasp of meaningful principles. They will kill a teacher or doctor or social worker just as easily as a rival drug dealer.
The police and their informants know who many of these gunmen for hire are, yet they roam around freely in society. Most murders go unreported in the press, and practically nothing is done about many of them because they didn't get enough attention. If an outright assault or murder case becomes high profile in the press or on the internet, then there is a much better chance that the police will both solve the case and truly press charges against the perpetrators, but it's not guaranteed that it won't be patsies and scapegoats who are dealt with, whereas others might remain "protected" from prosecution. Sometimes they are prosecuted, sometimes not.
Bangkok and Thailand are generally safe places to live, much moreso than many American cities I've known, as regards ordinary people. The main difference is that murders and violent crimes in Thailand tend to occur in premeditated ways against known entities, whereas in my home country it was people killing strangers much of the time, usually for robbery but even just for drive-by thrills. It's very rare to be assaulted in Thailand by a stranger, e.g., for robbery or a thrill. It's the people you know ... or think you know.
As a foreigner, you are more likely to get into trouble with other foreigners then you are with Thai people (though the foreigner might hire Thais to do the dirty work).
With internet and international competition, nations need to be competitive with each other, and part of this is maintaining a good business environment in Thailand.
Wanted: Good, strong leadership.
Meanwhile, steer clear of questionable groups.
There are lots and lots of good, honest Thais and foreigners who you can do business with, as I have been doing since 1994. There is no shortage of good people.
As long as you're willing to make money the old fashioned way -- earning it -- and willing to put in the necessary time and effort, and live within your means without excess luxury, then you can be successful in Thailand without having to deal with the crooks and criminals.
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