Thai controversy after French woman arrested, bribed, over e-cigarette

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A network of e-cigarette users has called on the Thai government to quickly come up with appropriate solutions to regulate e-cigarettes in order to protect the country’s image among foreign tourists. This followed a news report that Thai authorities had demanded a Bt40,000 (US$1,254) bribe from a French woman to free her after she was arrested for possessing an e-cigarette.

The network also plans to submit suggestions to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, according to The Nation.

The 31-year-old woman was on vacation in Phuket in January. She was allowed to return home last month, but then shared her experience with the media. The news report was published by French media outlet Var-matin.

“The news hurts the country’s image as a tourist destination. It’s a result of the ban on e-cigarettes, which is causing confusion in law enforcement,” Maris Karanyawat, representing the End Cigarette Smoke Thailand group, said in a press statement.

He said the network wanted the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Foreign Trade to quickly find appropriate regulations that could replace the ban on e-cigarettes.

In 2014 Thailand banned the import, sale and servicing of e-cigarettes, with violators facing punishment based on notifications from the Commerce Ministry as well as orders from the Consumer Protection Board.

Frenchwoman deported for vaping

Cecilia Cornu, 31, was in Phuket for a family holiday in January and was caught by Karon police holding an e-cigarette on 30 January while on a scooter with her fiancée as her parents and brother followed behind, writes Tanyaluk Sakoot for The Phuket News.

Cornu claims she was stopped by four police officers who snatched the e-cigarette and demanded B40,000, which she refused to pay.

She claims she was then arrested and taken to Karon Police Station where officers tried to bully her into paying a bribe.

Cornu was charged, her passport was confiscated and a trial date set for 11 February. Her return flight was scheduled for the following day.

She posted bail of B100,000 and was released the same day pending trial.

On 11 February Cornu attended Phuket Provincial Court where she was convicted for the offence and says she was fined B827 (23 euros). She was then sent to Phuket Immigration so, she thought, she could collect her passport.

Upon arriving at the immigration office, she was informed that she would be transferred to Bangkok for deportation.

Cornu was then taken to Bangkok where she claims she spent four days and three nights in a prison cell shared with 60 other women in dire conditions where she had to sleep on a hard, dirty floor with no sheets or mattresses before returning home to France.

Cornu claims the ordeal cost her a total of approximately 8,000 euros (B286,000) in legal fees and travel expenses.

Police response

Karon Police Chief Colonel Prasarn Hankotha responded to Cornu’s claims on 27 February. He told The Phuket News: “Karon police arrested Ms Cécilia Cornu after she was seen using an e-cigarette in Karon on January 30.”

“After waiting in the station for many hours while police worked on the case with her lawyer, she asked for bail which was granted at B100,000,” he explained.

“She posted bail and was released the same day. We did not hold her in a cell during her time at the police station.”

Colonel Prasarn went on to explain that the full bail amount was later returned to Cornu. “We have documents to prove this,” he said.

“Ms Cornu was fined by Phuket Provincial Court on 11 February but we do not know the amount as we have not yet received a report from the court.”

Colonel Prasarn flatly denied Cornu’s claim that his officers demanded a B40,000 bribe. “Karon Police had nothing to do with that,” he asserted.

“We had to confiscate her passport to prevent her from leaving the country before the trial, which is a normal procedure,” he said. “Police then sent her to the Phuket Immigration Office on February 11 to process her deportation via Bangkok.”

When asked about claims made by Cornu regarding her expenses, Colonel Prasarn replied, “We know nothing about 8,000 euros or B286,000. She paid a fine at Phuket Provincial Court and that is all we know.”

The Chief of the Phuket Immigration Office, Colonel Kathathorn Kumthieng, explained the standard procedure for all foreigners who are transferred to Bangkok for deportation, highlighting that it can take about three or four days to process and all travel and living costs during that time are the responsibility of the deportee.

E-cigarette users urge quick solution after tourist’s bribery accusation Frenchwoman deported for vaping

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