In the wake of less tourist dollars, strained destinations like Thailand have seen a rise in corruption.

Recent headlines in Australian newspapers are putting the spotlight on Thailand, but for all the wrong reasons. Stories of tourists being detained, charged, made to pay hefty fines, and even beaten are raising some questions.

We’ve previously covered Extreme Cases Of Travelers Imprisoned Abroad, 5 Ways Travelers Can Avoid Being Caught With Drugs and How You Can Help Travelers Imprisoned Abroad.

But here are three relatively new cases to consider and the implication for tourists.

Case #1

Annice Smoel at Melbourne Airport. Photo: John Woudstra

Mother-of-four Annice Smoel has just been released and deported from Thailand after she pled guilty to stealing a $50 bar mat.

Mrs. Smoel was in Phuket celebrating her mum’s 60th birthday when a couple of girlfriends decided to play a prank. They stuffed the bar mat into her purse without her knowledge.

The story after that is a bit hazy. One account is that after discovering the mat in her purse, the police let Mrs. Smoel go, but when bar staff caught up with her later they turned her back in to police. Another story says she was abusive to the police, which is what got her in the predicament she was in.

Mrs. Smoel, who has denied that she was abusive to the Thai police, says as women out by themselves, they were targeted. She claimes that had a man been present, he would have been able to bribe them and that would have been the end of it.

After spending four days in jail, her passport was confiscated and she was stuck in limbo awaiting a trial. Charged with theft, she faced up to five years in a Thai jail. After making a desperate plea to Australian officials and with the story getting worldwide attention, the pressure was on Thai officials.

The governor of Phuket relented and guaranteed that she would be let go if she pled guilty (a not guilty plea would have meant being stuck in Thailand for months awaiting trial).

While Mrs. Smoel is uncertain what happened behind the scenes, she is of the belief that the Thai authorities became worried about the negative effects her story would have on tourism. Her lawyer, Bernard Murphy, had this to say:

“The court hearing came out of the ether and essentially a deal evolved which was You plead guilty, we’ll pay the ($38) fine, we’ll apologise and you go home.”

Bizarrely, as she was being deported, officials told her that she was welcome back any time.

Case #2

Logan Hesse and his wife.

Shortly after Mrs. Smoel’s story had been outed, Logan Hesse came forward to talk about the hell that he and his wife just went through.

In 2007, the house they were living in burned to the ground while they were out for dinner with friends. After investigators found an electrical fault to be the cause, the couple flew home to Melbourne, but not before confirming they were cleared to leave.

Last month, Logan and Urica returned to Phuket for a holiday, only to find out that there was an arrest warrant for them. They were detained and their passports taken away. It turns out that shortly after leaving Thailand in 2007, a new fire investigator changed the cause of fire from electrical to a cigarette.

Though Thai officials had their contact details, no attempt to reach them was made. 21 months later, back in Thailand, Logan claims they’ve been extorted for a total of $60,000 to pay off the landlord and officials. Because of the downturn in tourism, he says, “Their pockets are lighter so they are turning on tourists.”

It was also claimed by the couple that the Thai official knew they would be returning because they had several friends there still. For Logan and Urica’s full story, visit their blog Land of Trials: How Two Foreginers Were Extorted In Thailand.

Case #3

A couple of months ago, a British man was jailed for 21 days and beaten after he became abusive as he tried to board his plane home. He was traveling on a British passport that was issued in Australia, but for some reason the British embassy told Thai immigration officials it was not authentic.

He eventually lost his temper and, in the eyes of the Thai, verbally abused them. He says he was sent to jail because he couldn’t come up with 2000 British pounds for bail. He was eventually vindicated when his passport was found to be real.

What do you think?

It’s not a new revelation that tourists are often targeted by corrupt officials to add a little extra linings to their pockets, but in this economic downturn, are we seeing this on a larger stage?

If Annice Smoel genuinely broke Thai law, why would she have been let go, apologised to and welcomed back?

Or, is it simply tourist beware? Should we be more mindful of any compromising positions we put ourselves in, even if we think we’re acting within the law?

Feauture photo of Thai policemen: pandora23

Share your thoughts below!