Ringgit tea money stopped at Sadao immigration booths

Immigration police commissioner Natthathorn Prohsunthorn (centre) announces his policy at the Sadao border crossing in Songkhla province on Tuesday. (Photo by Suwit Kaewhorthong)

SONGKHLA - The immigration police chief has ordered an end to accepting ringgit tea money at the Sadao border crossing, ending a 20-year tradition on arrival from Malaysia.

Six immigration officers were transferred from the main southern border checkpoint pending investigation.

Immigration police commissioner Natthathorn Prohsunthorn arrived at the border crossing on Tuesday following reports that visitors from Malaysia had to insert two ringgit, about 16 baht, in their passports before presenting the documents to immigration officers for stamps.

He told subordinates not to take the tea money and vowed to punish those who defied his order.

He said the payment was valid if visitors arrived outside official work hours, between 6am and 9am and between 6pm and 11pm. The Interior Ministry set the rate to pay for the overtime of officers during such hours.

The extra payment rule remained unless the ministry changed it, he said. However, some officers demanded the payment even during official work hours.

Big signs were already erected at the checkpoint: "No fee is charged when passing this border during office hours".

Six immigration officers were transferred from the Sadao border crossing to the Immigration Bureau 6 of Songkhla pending investigation into the tea money issue. Some officers sought the transfer themselves.

According to sources, tea money inserted in the passports of Thai and Malaysian people entering Thailand from Malaysia through Sadao was a normal practice for about two decades. It became a tradition among frequent travellers including Thai people working in Malaysia. The rate for a one-month visa stamp stood at 10 ringgits or about 79 baht.

As at least 5,000 people entered Sadao each day, the tea money amounted to 80,000-100,000 baht daily.

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