- - Monday, September 12, 2011

BANGKOK — When Thai voters recently elected a joke-cracking, former massage parlor tycoon to parliament, they probably did not expect him to expose police corruption and topple the country’s police chief.

All the drama is thanks to the wise-guy tactics of Chuvit Kamolvisit, who is using his status as a lawmaker to fight the same kind of crime he used to promote.

“You need an expert … to fight corruption,” Mr. Chuvit said at a recent news conference. “I can become the specialist about corruption because I know corruption.”

He has openly admitted bribing police officers when he owned several huge Bangkok massage parlors packed with prostitutes.

After winning a July election, he stunned parliament a month later by displaying an elaborate video sting operation he arranged to show that Thailand’s biggest illegal casino appeared to be protected by police.

Bangkok has more than 170 illegal gambling dens of various sizes that bring in a total of up to $6 billion each year. Five percent to 20 percent of the profits go to police, according to Rajabhat University’s Good Governance program.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal gambling sites exist throughout Thailand.

Mr. Chuvit said he exposed the biggest one in Bangkok, which raked in about $500,000 every night from 1,000 gamblers in the heart of the city.

“So it becomes about [$15 million] per month” in profit for police and others to share from just that one casino, Mr. Chuvit said, grinning with delight that his “anti-corruption” crusade is wildly popular with Thailand’s media and public.

He speculated that “100 percent” of Thailand’s illegal casinos pay bribes to the police.

“They cannot open without the permission of the police,” Mr. Chuvit said. “If you are the big guy from the army, you have to still be paying the police.”

Mr. Chuvit showed his first video in parliament on Aug. 23. It revealed the lush interior of a huge, expensively equipped illegal casino packed with gamblers.

He voiced mock outrage that police had not closed down Thailand’s biggest casino.

Despite the exposure of the illegal casino in parliament, police waited three days before staging a raid and then announced that Mr. Chuvit was wrong because the building was empty.

“I knew the police would be late,” Mr. Chuvit said at a news conference where he disclosed a second video.

That one was shot from a nearby rooftop and showed men and trucks emptying the casino’s gambling tables and equipment during the three days while the police hesitated.

“Every night, they moved everything. The ceiling, the carpets, the tables, the chairs, everything. They moved it in three days. Unbelievable,” he said.

As a result of Mr. Chuvit’s videos, National Police Chief Gen. Wichean Potephosree was forced to resign last week.

A Royal Thai Police Office committee began investigating 10 other senior police officers for suspected involvement in the case.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, a fearsome former police captain, expressed his own anger about the corruption.

“It is impossible that a large casino can open in the heart of Bangkok and top-ranking police officers are not aware of it and do not give a nod to the casino operator,” he said.

Corruption is part of Thailand’s “system” because “everybody pays,” Mr. Chuvit said.

He said he paid $5 million in bribes in 10 years to prevent raids on his massage parlors, which he began selling in 2003.

“Yes, this is Thailand. I accept that the massage parlor is the biggest sex business in the world,” he said.

Despite his exposure of police corruption, Mr. Chuvit has not abandoned his love of the high life. He boasts of being a hedonist and favors legalizing gambling. He heads a political party, Love Thailand, that has only four members but gives him a soapbox.

Mr. Chuvit shrugged off questions about whether he has put his life in danger by exposing police kickbacks in a nation where contract killings are common.

“The media protects me,” he said. “That keeps me alive because I am still in the spotlight.”

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