A Farang’s Rights In Thailand
Earlier this year in one of Stick’s opening pieces titled Advice For New Expats 2019, Stick submitted valuable ideas for the new, younger expats moving to live in Thailand. The sections “don’t settle with a Thai woman to fast” and another “don’t lose sight of the future” produced excellent advice. I can say that en connaissance de cause as I fell into both of those traps myself. The marriage broke up after a short time only, as for my future it was saved by the fact that by pure luck, in Phuket I happened to be in the right place, at the right time, launching the right kind of business. That was 30 years ago and could in no way be reproduced in today’s Thailand.
I take exception to the part “Understand That You Do Have Rights”. I disagree. Always be a good boy, submissive, smile when being wronged and you’re OK would have been more to the point. A guy that calling himself “the Blether” writing Farang – Thai related stories or blogs on his internet page some years back had a more apt definition: “In our home countries we enjoy the rule of law, Thailand has the rule of man” to which I add plus the special rule of farang.
The very few and limited rights foreigners may have in LOS are many a time outdone by the advantages and privileges locals enjoy in almost every contentious situation. Never forget that this is a xenophobic country. Granted you may occasionally win a labor dispute where the irregularities became too obvious or get back the deposit money of the rented apartment that the owner or condo administrator put in his own pocket but that’s pretty much as far as you’ll get. When it comes to real and serious issues your rights are nowhere. That the foreigner didn’t know how to go about working through the dispute and resolving the issue is not an accurate argument. How many of you master the Thai language to a degree that permits you to argue successfully a dispute in a meditation or arbitration, all the while keeping calm and jai yen-yen, knowing that your rights are being trampled on. Worse, if you’re unlucky enough to be cited in a court case where in certain instances even your own defense lawyer is often himself a corrupt individual. Also, it is not infrequent that he is just told to keep quiet by the judge.
Before I come to the real issue of this submission, here’s a short resumee of an incident that in the end did little harm but proves my point. It’s the story of a relatively minor accident that happened a few years back to me when a guy crashed his motorbike side ways in to my car going through a good visible red traffic light. He had no driving license, no insurance but a large family to back him up at the police station in Klong-Teng near Trang. My own comprehensive insurance paid all damages as the policeman were quick to decide and declare it was all my fault. I did have to fork out 3 weeks rental car fee while my car was being repaired.
What follows is not a minor incident but a sad and tragic story. Worse, it happened to me and my son. It is now 3 months in the past and this is the first time I’m able to put it in to words, if only in an abbreviated form. I have tried to be accurate and believe it is an objective account of the events. But first, a reconstructive narration of how it all began.
I sold my co. in the hospitality and the travel-operating sector and took early retirement just over 10 years ago. Resettled in a small town southwest of Krabi, I had just turned 60 and previously been accorded sole custidy by Thai law in court of a then 8-year-old boy (his mother had disappeared before he was 3 months old). I forgave myself for not insisting to sign additionally a usufruct contract as recommended between the two of us thinking he would outlive me by many years or decades. A mistake on my behalf you will no doubt conclude. In view of what follows it may have made things a little bit easier. But only a little as we will see.
A few years ago thinking of possibly resettling in my home country mostly in view of enjoying a superior education for my son. It meant selling my property here. I employed a Bangkok-based lawyer who insisted the sale of the house could easily be done. He consulted the local land office and some other government related institution. When he had taken a retainer of 50K baht he informed me that I would have to invest compulsorily the proceeds of the sale in to another house in my son’s name or alternatively in to a blocked bank account also in his name until adulthood. I decided to remain here and enrolled him in an international school in Bangkok.
I have lived in Thailand for just over 30 years. I would be dishonest not to mention all the good times I’ve had here during this time. The many friendly, the nice and often helpful Thai people (and farang of course too) I met and some befriended.
Years ago I submitted an application for permanent residency but was turned down, with no reason given. Decisive, possibly the divorce from a permanently absent and then divorced wife who was also consulted on the matter, I understand. No doubt she gave her own version of events.
Regardless, I have at all times been completely legal in Thailand. I did visa runs in the beginning. Later when I turned 50 I used the 800K baht yearly bisa bank deposit guaranty. More recently and additionally the 90 days reporting and completing TM30 forms when traveling. A humiliating exercise to me at my age, similar to a parolee or convict on bail in our developed countries on early release. During the 15 years I was at the helm of my co. I made sure that my work permit was always valid and up to date for a modest sum. Easily done in those days by one of the office girls. More importantly, every month the book keeping lady went to the relevant office to settle the government tax due for the month.
This story is about my son. At the time of the event he was aged 19. These last few years Alain has not been a model of virtue. After many great years looking after him as a child with the altruistic, selfless help of the girls of my co. during the day and office hours. Evenings, myself often working late sitting in front of my PC terminal, Alain would sit, then lie and eventually fall asleep next to me. During school holidays he would sometimes be touring the country with me, sometimes together with small or a medium sized tour group. At other times often simply spending an afternoon at Nai-Harn beach. The highlight and much looked forward to was the once a year Europe trip. Up mountains with picturesque chalets, lakes appearing in azure blue waters at summer-time. Majestic waterfalls that outshined many times the burbling rivers they call waterfalls here. It was a wonderful time for both of us and created years of unforgettable memories.
Then, a few years back and inevitably when children pass through the difficult transformation into adulthood, he turned into a bit of a rebel during his reenage years. A time when young man / children need their mother most. So a consulted counselor told me. He didn’t have a mother and I certainly did not always react in the best manner as a father to his moods and occasional transgressions. I penned a story two years ago entitled “Rebel Without Cause”.
If it wasn’t for the sad and tragic events you will now read about and more to the point its legal aftermath, I would not have written this submission and not ended it in the negative way in my concluding words of the submission.
In the early morning hours of May 20th this year I was awoken by loud banging on my bedroom window. Alain’s girlfriend and a clique of his friends urged me to come immediately to the hospital where Alain was treated after a serious accident on his motorbike. The news was not good. The surgeon in the emergency operating theater told me CPR reanimation was ongoing but not to be optimistic. I never saw my son alive again. Followed many days in the nearby temple, a Buddhist style funeral, cremation and an early morning final goodbye gently deposing of his ashes wrapped in a holy Buddhist fabric into the river estuary near Kantang.
The hurt and pain, the reproaches and self-doubt of what I could have done better to avoid this tragedy that inhabit my nights when sleep is elusive are mentioned here in passing. The subject of this blog is the events that followed. Of the insensible way Thai bureaucracy handled the case.
But first, a trip to Bangkok to inform my embassy. Alain had dual citizenship. Being that I now live in a solitary house with no other family members, they generously offered to translate the death certificate, have it Ampoer stamped locally in Bangkok at no cost and forward it to the competent Swiss authorities.
Some time after the days of mourning, it became apparent that I did not wish to continue living in this house so full of memories. The house-register was stamped “deceased” in red over Alain’s name. Selling the property to a Thai person would not be a problem. Or so I thought as the old divorce protocol made years ago states clearly (in the translated version): the child is under the sole care of the husband. The wife is not given any visitation privileges. However at the local Ampoer / Land Office I was told the house now was the property of the family of the long divorced wife. An ex-wife who has never lifted a little finger or contributed in any way to his upbringing. In fact, I wouldn’t even know where to find her. Best to consult with them and seek their approval to stay they said, (they already had verbally consented when seen at the funeral). The handover date and place of the chanote document in my possession should be arranged by mutual agreement. It will of course stay in my safe for the time being. I have informed all parties accordingly.
Remaining in the house until my own demise therefore is not a problem if they keep their word. But it’s not my wish. Finding a new home, turning the page, starting a new chapter in my life even at my advanced age is important to me as part of the very painful and ongoing healing process.
I want to sell the house. Then, so the land office informed me, I would need a court order to do so. Only a qualified and local lawyer could obtain that. The approval was by no means guarantied however, they added.
So I paid a 40 K cash retainer to a lawyer and was given the upbeat information that within 2 months I’d have the necessary documents to sell the house, according to the retained lawyer. That was early June. It’s now mid-August and I haven’t even been given a court appearance date as yet. Although a balance payment to the lawyer of another 40K was agreed by contract to be paid after my personal court appearance plus the court approved authorization selling the house. It now seems that those where just words.
More recently frequent telephone calls by my lawyer asking for more money supposedly for unexpected problems preparing my court dossier. I refuse to pay as I believe it’s just a plot to skim off the most additional cash having possibly been informed in preliminary inquiries by the court that my demand would likely be refused.
As it stands I am not optimistic of the outcome. Frustrated and disappointed by the callous and insensitive way in which this case is handled by the relevant authorities and institutions. “It’s the Law” will be as far as they go when questioned to their emotionless attitude. Not helping also is a lawyer I no longer trust entirely.
Returning to my opening paragraph here’s my conclusion. Or perhaps more to the point, additional advice for young newcomers: Distrust the often unethical and at times corrupt lawyers in Thailand. When possible, consult your embassy who will recommend lawyers with a degree of integrity. There is no guarantee, however. It may be better to try settle disagreements out of court. You save money and time. More importantly; remember that Thailand is not a “newly developed country” as they would like to be. I have read that phrase a few times recently in local and foreign publications. This country has a long way to go to earn that label. Let’s just say that for the time being it’s still just a banana republic.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]