Serving Justice Thai Style
I stood on the side of the road. My knees and hands were visibly shaking with equal measures of fear and rage. I watched the thugs disappear into the Bangkok traffic. Their non-descript brown pick-up and my car just dissipated into the evening rush hour. My former employer (who I will affectionately refer to as ‘Shithouse’ from here on) had just raised the stakes appreciably but I guess I was lucky. I had just received a stern warning. I had lost my car but at least I was unharmed. I was sure that if I had not been a farang, someone would be pulling my battered and lifeless body out of the Chao Phraya River tomorrow morning.
What, if anything, was I going to do about this? One thing was sure, now was not the time to make any emotional decisions. Go home, calm down and plan your next move with a cool head.
I hailed the next passing taxi and made my way home. I needed some time to think.
So, how does an honest, hardworking engineer get himself into this kind of trouble and more to the point, how the hell does he get himself out of it? I had options. One was to heed the thugs’ warning and just walk away. The others all involved upping the ante further and if I chose to do that, the questions were, how far could it go? and how far was I prepared to take it?
Once home, I sat in the lounge and went over the day’s events in my mind.
Of course I knew who was responsible for hiring the thugs to take my car. The disturbing thing was, the thugs were probably off duty police officers. Those tell tale white singlets under their jackets and the black shiny boots looked like standard police garb to me.
Walking away from the problem was not really an option. This dispute was primarily about money. Thirty thousand US dollars to be precise but there was also a principle involved. Shithouse the bastard, had cheated me and should not be able to just get away with it.
I could take this problem to my pal colonel Prasit but then I’d be getting into a ‘my gang’s bigger than your gang’ type of stand-off with these reptiles and if indeed they were the police, introducing the army to the feud would probably only make things worse. I would contact my cousin in the UK though. Not that he could do much to help but he was a news editor with BBC and at least I could tell him where to lead the authorities should anything unusual happen to me in Bangkok.
No. I dismissed the idea of asking the colonel for help and instead decided I would tackle this problem legally and seek a resolution through the courts. After all, I had all the necessary documents, contracts, signed agreements and, I was the frigging the victim here. Unpredictable and bent the Thai legal system may be, but I decided the best (and safest) course of action was to go the legal route and put my trust in Thai jurisprudence.
The first thing to do was to make a police report about the car jacking. I knew it wouldn’t achieve anything useful but it would be another document for my legal file. You can’t have too many documents when making a case in court. After that, I would look for a good, affordable lawyer and start my fight back.
I decided to proceed along this course.
A friend of mine suggested a law firm that might be able to help so I arranged a preliminary meeting and laid out my case. The young lawyer listened carefully as I described the sequence of events that had brought me here.
The story really began about eighteen months earlier and is a long one full of technical details which are just too complicated to go into here. The salient points are that Shithouse had sold me a car that was not his to sell because it belonged to a leasing company and he had reneged on a deal to pay me money for services that I had provided.
Khun Surasak, the young lawyer listened to my tale of woe, asked a few pertinent questions and scanned the various documents that I had brought with me to illustrate my case. He concluded that we could indeed take this matter to court and he would be glad to act on my behalf.
He also advised me not to take any action (legal or otherwise) concerning my run-ins with rent-a-mob. His view was that this would be best left to blow itself over.
Now came the game of agreeing a price and payment method with my newly appointed lawyer. This was not dissimilar to haggling over the price of a watch in Patpong market. His price was one hundred thousand baht to see the thing through to completion. This was payable no matter what the outcome. A further forty thousand baht would be payable if the court ruled in my favour and we recovered all of my money. I counter offered an eighty thousand baht flat fee plus twenty thousand if we won. Surasak accepted but I had to pay forty thousand baht immediately and the balance on judgment. I agreed.
So that was that. We were going to sue Shithouse the bastard and Surasak set the wheels of justice turning.
The first thing that Surasak did was to write a letter to Shithouse advising him to either settle this dispute or wait for a summons from the court. Shithouse responded by sending three of his henchmen round to my apartment to discuss the matter. Fortunately, I was out at the time but clearly this dodging of thugs business could not go on. I called colonel Prasit and asked him what I should do. He told me not worry and he would see to it that it would not happen again. To this day, I don’t know what he did, if anything, but he was right. I didn’t have any more thug trouble.
The court case rambled on for months and months. I went to the court in person on four occasions but the case was adjourned each time for the most petty of reasons. The opposition’s lawyer used delaying tactics that would have got him locked up in any civilized country for contempt of court. It was clear that our opponents had no legal defence and we had ‘em by the balls in that respect. They must have thought that if they could drag this out for long enough, I would get fed up and quit. Nothing doing.
Finally, after two years it looked like an end was in sight. We had a new date and this time, the thing would be decided. I turned up at the court in my best suit. My opponent did not bother attending even though he had been instructed to do so by the court.
I answered questions from the witness box and was cross-examined by the opposition lawyer and the judges. I knew my stuff and my case stood up to scrutiny. Judgment was passed in my favour.
At this stage of the proceedings I felt that right had finally prevailed and my opinion of Thai law and the Thai legal system went up several notches… Then it came right back down again.
After two years and at a cost of one hundred thousand baht I had proved in a court of law that my former employer had cheated me out of one point two million baht. All that was left to do now was for the judge to order the bastard to pay me, right?
Wrong! Now began another bargaining session. The opposition lawyer called Shithouse on his mobile from the courtroom and a kind of auction got underway. I wanted my 1.2m baht but this guy was offering to pay six hundred thousand. No reason or argument was offered. The judges were listening to this and asking me if I would accept the offer. I said I wanted all of my money and I wanted to know why they were not simply ordering Shithouse the pay up. Apparently it doesn’t work like that and if I continued to be intransigent I could get nothing. A compromise had to be made. Don’t ask me why. This bit I just could not understand. Finally a deal was struck and I reluctantly accepted eight hundred thousand baht as full and final settlement.
The whole episode is now closed and I have moved on. Still, the whole experience begs a few questions about the integrity of the system don’t you think.
If they are really honest, most Westerners living in Thailand are VERY nervous at the prospect of going through the courts here. If you have faith in the system, whatever you do, do not read "Welcome To Hell", which shows the Thai justice system in a less than favourable light.