How Criminals Use Elite Visas for Illegal Activities in Thailand

The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) is currently examining the activities of foreign nationals in the country who are on elite visa statuses and are involved in illegal businesses.

This issue surfaced after the discovery that a Chinese individual used a Thailand Privilege Card visa to reside in the country and launder substantial amounts of money for call center scam operations.

“Chen Yon Lai is a key figure who launders money for illegal scam gangs in the region,” stated Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej, the commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau.

Chen, aged 52, was apprehended at his upscale residence in Bangkok’s Phasi Charoen district on April 28. On the same day, police also detained a Thai associate of his, known only as Anan, aged 44, in Chachoengsao province.

During the raid, the police seized 11 million baht in cash, two computers, seven mobile phones, eight bank books, 13 cash cards, five cars, and other assets valued at roughly 42 million baht.

It was discovered that Chen managed digital wallets containing around 70 billion baht.

The arrests were part of a broader investigation that led to the apprehension of five members of a call center scam gang last year. The gang had set up a fraudulent website on the CIB’s Facebook page to deceive people.

Further investigations revealed more individuals involved, including Chen and Anan, who were responsible for managing the digital wallets and converting digital assets into cash.

Subsequently, police conducted searches at eight locations to capture the suspects: four in Bangkok, two in Samut Prakan, two in Chachoengsao, and one in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Authorities summoned five additional individuals connected to the suspects for questioning.

Chen and Anan faced charges related to public fraud, transnational crime, entering false data into a computer system, and money laundering. They denied all allegations.

Upon examining the seized cell phones, it was found that Chen used an app to manage multiple digital wallets for a Cambodian call center gang.

“Mr. Chen is a key player for the gang because he had to exchange the digital currency into cash,” explained Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop.

Chen resided in a luxurious house, using a Thai nominee to purchase several properties, including the two-story house where he was arrested, land, cars, jewelry, and other valuables.

Police also noted that Chen held a five-year visa under the Thailand Privilege Card scheme, previously known as the Thailand Elite card.

“We are concentrating on criminals who enter the nation with Thailand Privilege Card visas. Criminals have been known to use this kind of visa to facilitate their entry and exit from the country,” Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop stated.

He explained that the Thailand Elite card is issued by the Thailand Privilege Card Company Limited, under the supervision of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Immigration officials only verify the validity of these cards and permit entry if the holders are not blacklisted.

“Effective steps are required to stop these offenders from abusing the privilege. Information sharing between various parties is one measure. A background check on one’s financial sources should also be required before eligibility for the privilege card is granted,” he said.

On the day of Chen’s arrest, police also found his Chinese wife and their three children, who hold Thai nationality.

It was revealed that the children are Thai because Chen allowed his wife to register her marriage to a Thai man, who then became the legal father of the children.

When asked about Chen’s choice of Thailand for his operations, Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop pointed to the country’s resources that support a comfortable lifestyle for foreigners, such as hospitals and international schools, and the simplicity of doing business.

“Our system makes it easy for anyone to conduct business, thereby providing a loophole for criminals to use Thailand as a base for money laundering,” he said.

Chen traded and converted digital currencies to baht and yuan using a non-custodial wallet, allowing him to quickly transfer funds to mule accounts operated by the Cambodian call center gang. The police are continuing their efforts to locate more gang members.

“We believe there are still many people who are members of the gang hiding in Thailand as well as in China and Cambodia,” Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop noted.

In addition to pursuing offenders, the CIB also operates the Anti-Online Scam Operation Centre (AOC), a service center of the Digital Economy and Society Ministry that tackles technology-related crimes, including online scams.

Individuals can report issues to the AOC via or its 1441 hotline.

The AOC employs aggressive and defensive tactics, such as tracking illicit financial transactions and blocking fraudulent websites or pages.

Since its inception in November last year, the AOC has blocked over 5,000 website URLs and arrested numerous members of call center scam networks. Despite these efforts, many still fall victim to these scams.

To mitigate further harm, the AOC collaborates with Thai banks to monitor and freeze suspicious bank accounts and financial transactions, preventing substantial losses in real-time.

With increased police vigilance, call center scammers have shifted to using cryptocurrency.

Thus, the CIB is collaborating with banks, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and digital asset business operators to devise strategies to prevent similar incidents in the future.