Phuket vows airport mafia cleanup

The Third Region Navy on Monday said it was cleaning up all illegal activities and will improve services at the Phuket airport within a month.

The airport has been plagued for years with tourist-unfriendly problems that need to be quickly solved,said Capt Sompong Narkthong, chief of staff for operations fleet. He pledged fast action.

On Monday, he led a joint team of 50 sailors, police officers and airport staff to inspect taxi and shop operations at the airport.  

Of the three problem areas, Capt Sompong promised first to tackle management of the legally operated green-plate airport taxis.

That will lead directly, he said to arrests of operators of the so-called “black plate” taxis operating in competition and allegedly under both control and protection of an airport mafia.

Capt Sompong said the illegal taxi services were operated by several groups including influential figures, local politicians who were newcomers, and gangs who mix unregistered taxis with registered vehicles to cover up their operations.

In the third stage, authorities said they would summon a group of 18 independent taxi drivers and “hold talks” with them, making them pledge to offer fair services and to refrain from improper conduct. 

Any airport and immigration officials involved with taking bribes would be given a month to stop,  Capt Sompong said. After that, the Navy would use “strong medicine” against those who persist.

He said the Navy was also cracking down on illegal shops operated by similar mafia gangs, and involved with conflicts of interest. 

He said Monday’s inspection found three shops whose leases with the airport expired last April. Operators refused to move. Renters were ordered Monday to demolish these shops within in four days, he said.

The Navy will assess the result of its airport crackdown in a month, he said.     

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