Stickman's Weekly Column June 9th, 2013

Arsenal Alex


He flew in to Bangkok in January with grand plans and a wallet to finance them. With an inheritance of millions, he was going to find a good Thai lady, get married and start a family. But not before he fulfilled his dream of owning a Bangkok gogo bar. He befriended online commentators, wined and dined many of the big names of the Bangkok bar biz and then in the space of just a few days it all fell apart. Was he, as many have suggested, a two-bit con man, or was he something more complex? This is the story of Arsenal Alex.



The first email I received from "Alex", the name by which he introduced himself, was in March of last year. A lengthy first up email told me of his background and how he had grown up in central London as an only child. It wasn't until he reached his teens that he realised that not only had he been born in to money, as an only child one day it would all be his. Alex first visited Thailand in 1986 and like many fell in love with the country. Regular and frequent visits followed.

Alex explained that he been an avid reader of this column since its inception and was eager to meet me. With his dream of owning a bar, he felt he could learn about the industry from me. I've long been reluctant to meet up with anyone who contacts me via the site and without reference or recommendation, I tend to decline invitations from strangers. Alex's emails were cheery and upbeat. He offered dinner, I had no plans, so I thought why not.

That first meeting went well and in person Alex proved to be just as he was in his emails, friendly and cheerful. He would again explain to me about how he had ended up where he was today. His father passed away in 1986, his mother in 2003. He had inherited the family home, sold it and bought two houses which were developed into flats. He lived in one of the flats himself and the rest were rented out. With London real estate amongst the most expensive in the world and property values in prime areas refusing to slow their rapid ascent, the value of his inheritance come investment soared. He would increase rent rates and people just kept paying! He's the first to admit that he's not the brightest bulb in the room, but in property, he explained, you don't need to be. As had become his mantra, he would tell me over and over again that through an accident of birth he had come in to money. He planned to retire in Thailand in 2015, at age 50, when a retirement visa would make staying long-term easy. Approaching his 48th birthday he calculated that he already had way more money than he could possibly spend and he would run out of life before he ran out of money. He was aware of the education visa available to those who sign up for a Thai language course which would make living in Thailand easy. He would move to Thailand now!

Alex emailed me shortly before moving out here, asking for help finding a condo. I referred him to T, a straight-shooting American who owned and ran a couple of Remax franchises, one of which was in Bangkok. Within a day of arriving Alex was met by one of T's staff who showed him various properties. He settled on a condo in a recently completed high-end building with stunning views of Sukhumvit Road and beyond.


Sukhumvit Road

The view from Alex's condo.


After that first meeting Alex was keen to meet again and sought an introduction to popular bar manager and Bangkok nightlife site webmaster, D. At the time Alex struck me as a bit of a groupie, seeing D and I as some sort of celebrities. I barely knew Alex but D was happy to meet him. D's a good host and always keen to get big spenders in the bar. Alex was throwing money around so off to Nana Plaza we went. D and Alex were introduced and the two Brits hit it off immediately.

Within minutes of meeting D, Alex was outlining his personal situation, how he had inherited a home in the heart of London, how he had sold it, bought and developed other properties, rented them out and eventually cashed out. He intimated that he had a bank balance in excess of ₤5,000,000 and he wished to invest some of it in the bar industry. D's advice was exactly the same as mine. Keep your mouth shut in Bangkok about how much money you have! I still remember D's carefully chosen words, which would later prove prophetic, but not in the way I thought. "Be careful in Bangkok. If people know you have money they will try to sell you something they don't have, and do anything to part you from your money."

Alex went on to tell us how this sort of thing was nothing new to him. He was regularly contacted by people with problems in the UK who were seeking a handout. People who had fallen on hard times, people who had illnesses that required specialist treatment and people who just wanted free money. He was, he assured us, adept at dealing with such people. Living up to my reputation amongst close friends for being boring, I called it a night early and left Alex with D. They spent much of the rest of the evening chatting and from that meeting a friendship was born.

With word out that there was a new guy in town with money in his pocket interested in buying bars, Alex quickly became acquainted with many of the city's foreign bar owners.

By day bar owners and their family were invited around to Alex's luxurious pad where they would spend lazy afternoons at the pool. By night Alex said he was wining and dining them. They'd dine at fancy places, and Alex would tell people they would flip a coin to decide who would pick up the bill, he'd tell me. Alex quickly got close to some of the most successful bar owners, past and present. It would later become apparent that his claims of wining and dining bar owners were not true at all, yet a number of bar owners would become well aquatinted with Alex nonetheless. Where Alex said he was wining and dining them in fancy establishments, more often than not they were having a coffee or his favourite drink, iced lemon tea.


Candidography


Within weeks Alex had purchased his first business in Thailand. He had ventured to Pattaya to meet T, owner of a couple of Remax franchises. T was concentrating on the franchise in Pattaya and had also picked up a bar to add to his portfolio of businesses. He didn't have the time to develop the Bangkok franchise. Alex paid 600,000 baht for the Bangkok franchise which came with staff, an office and the company set up and registration already done.

Alex invited me to dinner, telling me he had a proposal. Over dinner he said that he wanted me to become his partner in Remax. I gave him my standard spiel that I do things on my own. I don't work well with others. Lifestyle is important to me and a partnership wouldn't work. With this site's readership, along with the many people I know in Bangkok, he felt I could generate a lot of business. I could, he explained, have half the business for nothing, effectively a 300,000 baht value. He outlined the commissions on sales and rentals and showed how with a couple of sales and a few rentals a monthly profit of 1,000,000 – 1,500,000 was achievable. And half of that would be mine. He was quick to point out, however, that should the operation not make a profit, and should it – very unlikely – make a loss, then I would have to put my hand in my pocket and meet half that loss. Office rent, salaries and other incidentals were running a bit over 100,000 baht a month so if no business was done I'd have to come up with 50,000 baht per month. I had no intention of getting involved. Real estate holds zero interest for me. I don't like sales, I don't like commissions and I don't do partnerships. I pointed out to him that if he was so confident that such lofty monthly profits would be made then why would he even raise the possibility that the operation would make a loss. In my own mind I was wondering why he has asked me. We didn't know each other nearly well enough to become business partners. I would not go in to business with anyone I didn't know very, very well and at that stage I'd only met Alex a handful of times. That many foreigners are quick to go into business in Thailand with someone they've just met has always seemed to me to be a disaster waiting to happen.

Alex didn't let up and kept asking me if I wanted to get involved. I reiterated that I had zero interest and he should quit talking about it. He told me I was missing out on a grand opportunity and started to sound like a used car salesman. He finally got the message and dropped it.

With the average price for a decent, medium to large Bangkok gogo bar running around 25 million baht, Alex told me had transferred 50 million baht to his account in Thailand in anticipation of making an acquisition. He asked me to put something in the column to that effect and that anyone interested in selling a business should get in touch with him. A number of bar owners took the bait. Alex met more bar bosses and became involved in talks about buying various bars around town.



One of the first bars he was interested in was in Patpong. Many meetings were held with the owner but progress was slow. Alex and the owner were never on the same page price-wise and negotiations went nowhere.

The next property Alex showed interest in was a foreigner-owned, ground floor Nana Plaza gogo bar. The asking price was 25 million baht, but Alex thought it was worth less.

Alex would always ask me what I thought a bar was worth which is not an easy question to answer. First of all were the books. You'd never know if the numbers were real or fudged. I'd tell him that the industry was unpredictable and 1.5 times earnings was probably in the ballpark, certainly not more than 2 times. Even then, I thought almost every bar he looked at was seriously overpriced. You never know what the future holds, I would tell him. A bar popular today can fall out of favour tomorrow. And one can never rule out the axe falling on the industry. Unlikely, but not beyond the realms of possibility. He was undeterred.

Getting back to the ground floor Nana Plaza bar, Alex felt 17.5 million baht would be a fair price and I agreed it was getting closer to what it was worth, but still felt that was on the high side. 14 or 15 million would be fair, I thought. The owner had stalled at 21.5 million but the gap between what the buyer wanted and what the seller was offering was closing. My feeling was that the owner was probably 10 days or so away from accepting Alex's offer. As a deal started to become a genuine possibility, talks seemed to stall.

I should point out that I attended one of the meetings over the possible purchase of this bar. The interested buyer, Alex, had, as I would later learn, completely misrepresented himself and the seller would mention all the other parties who had shown interest, some of whom were very close to making a firm offer. It was bullshit city. No wonder I loathe the idea of anything to do with sales.

Next Alex became interested in Mercury in Nana Plaza, along with the hotel next door. Alex spent a lot of time with the owner, one of the genuinely nice guys in the industry. With renovations carried out on the bar last year, the sale of the bar would likely have to include the adjacent Hollywood Hotel as the plans for the 2 venues didn't match up with how the venues were post renovation. If you had both then all was ok, but if you had only one and another party had the other, things could get difficult.



Alex asked me what I thought about a short-time hotel. I told him to forget it. I strongly recommended against getting involved. He couldn't understand. All he could see was a business that was a cash cow and not subject to many of the issues operators of bars face. I explained that short-time hotels are a grey area in the eyes of the law, and what goes on inside would worry me as a business owner. Many customers are older, intoxicated and taking Viagra – a dangerous mix. There are frequent reports of people checking out while in the middle of the act. I explained that almost half of the sex workers using the hotel were ladyboys – and they can be volatile. Many are on drugs and there can be disputes with customers. A dispute could escalate and if things got out of hand you could have a fight, a stabbing, or worse, all there on the premises! And when the cops come they would want to know who the owner is. If it's a foreigner, it's going to get messy. Or expensive. Or both. As profitable as a short-time hotel may be, there are many reasons not to get involved. But Alex wasn't listening. The short-time hotel idea appealed to him greatly.

Alex would pick my brain over fancy dinners. The Sheraton Grande, The Landmark, French restaurants. He was generous and I never paid a single baht. We dined out a dozen or more times. By filling my belly he kept my ear.

Alex briefly dated one of the Remax sales girls before sensibly realising there was no future in that if he was her boss. He eventually settled on a pleasant lady from northern Thailand working in Bangkok as a government official. She was a sweet, traditional girl who was besotted with him. He made no secret that he wanted to purchase a strip bar and just could not see that dating and going home to a good girl while employing lots of bad girls just isn't compatible. He had said that he wanted to get married and start a family. My advice to him while sitting with the two of them in a restaurant was to forget buying a bar. Get married and start a family instead. She had a million baht smile! If you're a dollar millionaire many times over, why have all the stress and worry of a bar? But it's my dream, he'd say…

A couple of months ago, perhaps a couple of months after I first met Alex, I found myself becoming annoyed with him. I wrote him an email outlining how it was frustrating to give someone advice they specifically asked for, only for them to neither act on it nor even appear to consider what was said. It seemed I was wasting my time. While it was nice to be wined and dined, his oddities were wearing thin. In the end I decided against sending it, but the feeling remained.

Looking back, I wonder if Alex felt at that time he was losing control. In an effort to get things back to where I believe he wanted them to be – with him as the centre of attention and with people falling over themselves to help him, he had to change tack. Merely being generous wasn't working any more.

He was meeting with bar owners, some of whom own and control multiple venues. He was attending meeting after meeting accompanied by the founder of one of Bangkok's best known show bars, a person liked and respected by everyone in the industry. They were looking at buying a bar together and this guy, who wanted to get back in to the industry, gave Alex legitimacy. Alex would relay stuff from those meetings to others, which I took to show that he was "in" with influential people in the industry.

I noticed some bar owners were getting annoyed with him. The owner of Tilac told me that he thought Alex was a time waster, and worse, after he had met with him and his partners about an investment in a business totally unrelated to the nightlife. Alex, it seemed, had not impressed anyone, and they told me that things didn't add up with him at all. The guy might have money, but he had no business sense whatsoever. Alex had been talking to a lot of people, going to many meetings, but had not bought anything other than a small real estate agency which was doing little or no business. And Alex was never at the office so the 2 staff took the piss, taking long lunches and were more likely to be found in the local shopping mall.


The Strip Gogo Bar Bangkok


Alex started playing off people against each other, telling stories to people about others, creating problems that didn't exist. He would then tell these same people how he was close to the other person and how he could smooth things over. I took it as a misguided effort to bring value to himself and make himself appear to have influence, and therefore value to others.

He played T in Pattaya off against me. T and I weren't close, but we got on well and had a good working relationship. Alex would constantly call T nothing but a long-term tourist. T enjoyed the nightlife, something he made no secret of. Alex would leak a small detail that happened to be true – such as T being in Bangkok for the day – and it would end up that that T had spent 5 nights in town, was shagging all and sundry, blowing what little cash he had and neglecting his business and not paying bills to people Alex knew. But, of course, Alex could fix this and see that the people owed money were paid. It would later be discovered that most of it was nonsense.

A little over a month ago I was asked to lunch by Alex to meet M who, I was told, was a friend of his from the UK. At one point he told me that a friend would be coming over from the UK who had been his bodyguard come chauffeur in England and had driven him around in his Bentley, a grainy, blurry photo of which Alex had shown me with him standing proudly beside. Alex explained that had taken over a Bangkok beer bar and had flown M in from the UK to manage it for him. At last, Alex had a bar!

At that meeting, Alex and M poured over the bar's receipts from the previous night. I was surprised at how someone with so much money could get so excited by the modest daily turnover of a beer bar. M didn't look anything like a bodyguard. Things weren't adding up, and I don't mean the computerised bar receipt.

Things came to a head Monday before last. I received an email from Alex telling me that the owner of Spanky's – who I have known for many years, and who I have an excellent relationship with – was very unimpressed with me. It was alluded that the owner, Marc, had misconstrued something I had said in the column – and he was angry with me. What I had written was that "Bangkok's newest bar manager was not just hands on, but lips on" in his new role. I intimated that said fellow had bar management experience and I did not – so what would I know? Alex said that Marc thought it was him I was talking about.

I contacted Marc and explained that what had been written was not about him at all. Marc didn't know what I was talking about! He told me that all was cool between us, as it always had been. Marc explained that he was on Ko Tao and he had not had a chance to read the column yet. Everything was cool between me and Marc, as it always was. Alex was creating problems!



I called a friend and told him I had something on my mind. Over coffee my good friend Lecherous Lee listened as I explained the story. He said that he had thought Alex was odd from the first time he had met him. Lee had been a realtor in an expensive neighbourhood in the US and had dealt with wealthy people on a daily basis before retiring to Bangkok – and he said of all the wealthy people he had met and dealt with he had never met anyone like Alex. His advice was clear – now that you have caught him in a serious lie, cut him off. In Lee's mind Alex was bad news. After that Alex and I traded emails, but I never did see him again.

That same week, the last week of May, the stars all lined up and it was as if everyone who had been dealing with Alex went sour on him at the same time. T was up from Pattaya and he was furious at Alex. It turns out that T had never been paid for the Remax franchise! Alex first visited T mid January after he had got him a condo. By February 1st Alex agreed on a handshake deal to buy half of Remax in Bangkok. Without T's knowledge, Alex had been trying to sell the franchise on, even though it was still in T's name! Alex even sent me an email asking me to list it in the column. T was strung along for 3 months with Alex lying about when the money would come. Sadly T passed up 2 opportunities to sell the business because he thought he had a viable partner. T would eventually be effectively several hundred thousand baht out of pocket. He was forced to close the doors of the Bangkok franchise, incurring months of losses as well as the expense of closing a company. He had angry staff to deal with owed severance pay who complained to the Labour Department about him. A date in court would be pending.

At the same time Alex was telling T that he would join T in part of any club or hotel that he bought because he needed someone to run it because, as was one of his mantras, he didn't have that skill set. So, the allure of a cut of the action kept T in play and waiting for his money.


The Strip Patpong


Everything came to a head the last 2 nights of May. On Thursday night in Patpong and Friday night in Nana, bar owners, bar managers, real estate agents and nightlife columnists met and talked openly about Alex, all comparing notes. We'd been fed a pile of lies and we'd been played off against each other. It all came out. Reputations had been muddied, friendships stressed and in the case of T, a financial loss suffered. We might come from different countries, we might have different ideologies, we might not always agree with each other, and from time to time we might even piss each other off, but there's mutual respect. The air was cleared, hands were shaken and a lot of drinking was done. We were all cool with one another again. We were, however, seriously pissed off with Alex!

For me, it was more disappointment than anything. I was to learn that Alex had been telling people that he and I had been friends for 13 years when we'd only met a few months earlier. It annoyed me that I had personally introduced him to D, other friends and referred him to a bar owner. From there, he had made inroads. Some bar owners, however, have to take it on the chin. One or two were queuing up to meet him when they heard how much money he had. Or should that be how much money he said he had.

Other bar owners were furious that their name had been dragged through the mud by Alex who had come up with an incredibly inventive story about one of the major players in the industry. Word got out and for a short time the fellow defamed was rightfully furious. Alex had been playing everyone off against each other, with a myriad of lies – and now everyone knew!

The last time Alex was seen was in Nana Plaza on the night of Thursday, May 30th. D, T and I were standing at the balcony in the plaza talking about Alex. T was telling me how Alex had told me porkies about a real estate deal that T had been working on when Alex walked out the back door of Zen. T took off after him. I went to follow sensing a chance to take photos but D put one of his big hands on my shoulder and told me to stay put. A few minutes later T returned, frustrated. Alex had disappeared. Maybe he'd got in to a taxi, or maybe he had legged it when he got out of the plaza. T's not a big guy, but there's no doubt in my mind that had he caught up with Alex that night that blood would have spilled. T is of Italian stock and his fuse is short.


Nana Plaza


Things went quiet over the weekend. I pottered away on the column. It was the end of the month so bars, bar bosses and managers were kept busy. We all had others things on our mind.

The new week – that is Monday of this past week – should have been a new dawn, the post-Alex period. It wasn't to be.

I was to learn that a friend had somehow been convinced to hand his passport over to Alex. My friend revealed that Alex had invested in his business, buying a 49% share for 400,000 baht. The deal had been done on a handshake. There was no documentation. And yes, Alex really had transferred 400,000 baht to my friend.

My friend was keen to get the business registered and Alex said he could do that via his girlfriend who worked as a government official. Alex, his girlfriend and my friend met for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Terminal 21 and the details were discussed. My friend handed over his passport and 50,000 baht.

I was to quiz my friend about that meeting. Did you sign a power of attorney? Did you complete a work permit application form? What forms did you fill out? It quickly became clear that he had signed very little and it was simply not possible that a work permit application could have been submitted. Where was my friend's passport, his most precious legal document?

My friend would later admit his judgment was appalling, a moment of insanity. Stupid doesn't even start to describe it, something he acknowledges and is dreadfully embarrassed about.

He called Alex this past Monday and told him he needed the passport back urgently. Alex explained that there had been a problem and he would not be able to get it back to him until 6 PM Tuesday, the next day. The problem? Alex said that the latest visa in his passport did not show up in the Immigration computer. Had such an issue really arisen, surely Alex would have said something sooner. It was bullshit. What it told me was Alex seemed to know rather more about passports, visas, and how Immigration department computers work than one ought to.

Unfortunately my friend had another massive lapse of judgment and believed him and waited until the next day.

That was the last time anyone I know spoke with Alex. T and I speculated that night that Alex would run.

I didn't know what to make of Alex taking my friend's passport. Western passports have value to the bad guys. Did Alex know such people?

I was suspicious of Alex's friend, M, from the first time I met him. M told me that he and Alex first met in Spain 3 years ago. M had been running a bar and Alex was a customer. M believes it was the European summer of 3 or 4 years ago. They got chatting when they discovered they had each spent time in Thailand. They stayed in contact and when Spain went tits up M moved back to the UK. Alex and M met up for a drink and a chat on a couple of occasions at a pub in Finsbury Park, North London, around October last year. Alex had told M that he would be moving to Thailand in January and after relocating out here they were in regular contact. Alex communicated to M that he had found a bar to invest in and M bought a share in Lickety Split A Gogo on Walking Street. That was January. No such bar exists.

In February M was searching online and came across a site with bars for sale in Pattaya. He saw a bar listed that looked interesting and he contacted Alex about it. Alex responded, saying that he had checked it out and it was a good deal. M sent more money to Alex, again by Western Union. All up, M claims he sent Alex a total of ₤22,000, the lion's share of his life's savings. This just didn't add up to me. Why would a former bar owner send money by a method known to be favoured by those into dodgy dealings to someone he hardly knew to buy or invest in the very sort of business he said he was in himself?! It did not make sense at all.

Things got even more suspicious when a Thai girl contacted T. It turns out she was M's girlfriend and M would later show photos of the bar to T he said that he had bought. These photos had been sent to him by Alex and they were taken inside T's bar in Pattaya! Alex was a con man, that much had been established, but how did M fit in? Was M, a former bar owner himself, a total moron? Looking at the facts. M invested in a bar (a business he had supposedly been in himself so he would be well aware of the common scams), which was in a foreign country, sight unseen, sending money by Western Union to someone who was almost a stranger, all with no documentation signed! And then when M arrived in Thailand he didn't go to see the bar for a month, when it was only a 1 and a half hour drive away. And this all from someone who struck me as feisty and determined. How plausible is that?! How did M come on to the scene? He was introduced by Alex! M is the same age as Alex, and comes from the same city. There was a familiarity between them that transcended any of the friendships Alex made in Bangkok. Join the dots.



Like me, D had been wined and dined by Alex, and like me, D had got to know Alex's girlfriend. On Tuesday night she called D in tears. She had arrived at Alex's place where she had basically been living for the last 2 or 3 months – and all his stuff had gone. Everything. She tried to call him but his phone was off. Alex had disappeared. But that wasn't why she was crying. She had lent him all the money she had, 300,000 baht, and with Alex that had gone too!

I spoke with her on the phone that night. She went to the police, laid a complaint and Alex became a wanted man. She went to the airport with police and they looked for him, believing he may be about to flee. I asked her if they had checked the Immigration computer to see if he had left the country. She said that they could not do that until the next day, which didn't make sense. Phone lines were ringing hot, things were going crazy and her being a good Thai girl, I didn't think much of it at the time.

The picture was becoming clearer. Alex was a con man. Soon after arriving in Thailand he had conned around 1 million baht out of M who believed he had purchased shares in 2 bars in Pattaya, neither of which exist. Alex befriended 2 Bangkok webmasters, me and D. Through us he got to know a number of bar owners and made out that he was interested in buying bars. What I now suspect he was doing was finding out information about bars, in some cases getting copies of accounts, company registrations documents etc. and forwarding them to people he was selling shares in bars to, probably people in the UK buying sight unseen. He was often on the phone with the UK and I suspect he was trying to peddle shares in bars. He would excuse himself when calls came from the UK, which at the time didn't strike me as suspicious. With the benefit of hindsight, it was. Where one could be forgiven for thinking he wanted to go to a quiet area to carry on the conversation, it is just as likely that he didn't want those around him hearing what he was talking about.

Selling shares in bars in Bangkok's red light areas over and over to many different people is nothing new. But what I still didn't get was that Alex just wasn't that convincing. He was pleasant mannered and friendly, but he wasn't smooth and he didn't have the traits that many con men did. He wasn't a great talker. There had to be more to it.

I would learn that his name is not Alex. He doesn't look English at all. He has a slightly darker complexion, not what I would call typically English. He has a distinctive nose, body hair like a Greek / Mediterranean, or possibly a Middle Easterner. Who was he really?

He dressed modestly. For someone who claimed to have millions of pounds, you'd expect him to have dressed smarter. That's not to say that the wealthy dress well or are necessarily concerned about fashion, but some of his clothes were obviously freebies like beer-themed shirts which had probably been giveaways. Some of his clothes were just plain tatty.

There was no Swiss watch, no jewellery and no brand name clothes. He had a low spec laptop. He had a new iPhone, but then in Bangkok who doesn't?

I had helped get Alex an appointment with the managing director of Thailand's biggest business brokerage and he didn't even bother to turn up. In retrospect that was a major red flag for someone so keen to purchase a business in Bangkok.

When I asked Alex about life in London and what it was like to have as much money as a Premier League player, his answers were clichéd. He just wasn't convincing.

Alex said he had dreamed about moving to Thailand, but that doesn't make sense. I don't think I ever saw him eat Thai food. Most who love Thailand enjoy the local cuisine. He drank little and while he said he wanted to buy a bar, he never seemed to really enjoy himself in that environment. He didn't seem that keen on his girlfriend and I wondered if he was in to Thai girls at all. He had dated a Russian girl in Pattaya briefly and seemed keener on her than he was on his girlfriend. He ate English food, watched English football and I don't know if he even attended language lessons. He lived a farang lifestyle in Bangkok. I really don't think he cared for Bangkok much at all.


Wat Arun


The clues were always there, but with no intention of doing business with him beyond possibly accepting a banner advertisement should he buy a bar at some time in the future, I had no reason to give it much thought.

He was socially awkward and not a great conversationalist, which strikes me as unusual for a con man. I was having doubts if he was a con man – but everything pointed to him being one.

And then there were his table manners which along with his oddities and social clumsiness reminded me of someone who had just left home. He had awkward social skills and rather than using charm, he won people over by being generous, picking up the bill and, of course, suggesting there was plenty more money where that had come from. As he used to often say to me, "When people think you have money they treat you so much better!" He was right and in Bangkok that approach worked perfectly.

There's much we now know about Alex, but there's even more we don't. On more than one occasion he mentioned that he spoke Farsi and that he had been to Iran a number of times. That's no crime, but neither is Iran the first place on most people's list of places to visit. When I look at the photos of him, he hardly has a typical English look. Could he be of Iranian stock? I mentioned to D that I had never seen him eat pork, and after thinking about it, neither had D. Suspicious.

One friend describes Alex as highly polished, a professional con man who has probably done this all before and just changes location when he has made his money, or when the game is up and he has to run. To me that doesn't make sense. Why did he offer to pay a year in advance on his condo, a decent chunk of change given that he stayed in a flash pad? Why did he pay 400,000 baht for half a business that he would gain little from?

I thought a con man would be like a good salesperson – smooth, charming, a talker. Friendly, cheerful and generous would be a fair description, but Alex wasn't the salesman type. He was socially awkward, didn't dress well and looked odd. Without wanting to sound mean, he was physically ugly.

There are plenty of reports, both in the mainstream media and from the grapevine, of Western scammers in Thailand in recent years, con men with various ruses who take advantage of locals and foreign residents. Was Alex such a man?

Or is he more than a mere con man?

I had reached the conclusion that Alex was an unsophisticated con man who capitalised on others' opportunism and greed, perpetrating the age old con of selling the same shares in bars over and over again, packaged with the Bangkok bar dream. It's been done many times with reports going back to the days when Trink was the man and not a single bargirl had a mobile phone. Even today with established and respected companies like Sunbelt Asia, Thailand's top business brokerage, and which just happens to be Western-owned and with some Western agents, you'd wonder why some people still get caught up in such nonsense. They try to save a few baht, and end up losing everything. Ripping off M for ₤22,000, conning his girlfriend out of 300,000 baht, stealing (and presumably selling) my friend's passport, lying to all and sundry and running his mouth off about others, this was all the work of a con man. I had him pegged. The article was written.

Trying to figure out the whole episode gave me a headache. Was Alex using me? He'd run down others, so what had he said to others about me? Was my good name amongst those in the bar industry being dragged through the mud?

And where was Alex now? Was he still in Thailand or had he got out? His girlfriend had reported him to the police for stealing 300,000 baht and she had told them that she thought he had fled. Presumably his name had been flagged in the Immigration computer and he would not be able to leave the country.

I couldn't help myself, I started digging around. I needed to know the truth. Something didn't feel right and I needed to get to the bottom of it.

Alex's phone went unanswered and as a Gmail user it would be tricky to trace the location from where he was emailing unless he stuffed up. Not impossible, but it required conditions which weren't in place.

Accessing the database most used by private investigators all around the world, I set about performing a bunch of advanced searches. It took much digging but eventually I hit gold. His name came up. When I read the report from Hong Kong my eyes must have become as wide as saucers. Alex had been caught entering Hong Kong 4 years ago with a number of false passports, some of which featured his photo but were in the names of others. He had pleaded guilty to the charges and been sentenced to more than 2 years jail. I looked at the report and it was definitely him. There was no doubt.

This man was a convicted passport fraudster and he had my friend's passport!

My mind went in to overdrive. Was he part of an organised crime syndicate involving dodgy passports? Could that be just the tip of the iceberg? He had a look that could well be Middle Eastern. What was going on?



I would confront Alex with what I had found out about him in Hong Kong and ask him what the real story was. Alex sent a lengthy email full of apologies to the various parties involved. But it was his candor which would surprise me.

Alex admitted that the story of being born into wealth was pure fabrication and part of his ruse. He had in fact had a tough upbringing. What he also admitted is that he is a career criminal. He revealed that between 2002 and 2010 he spent more years in jail than out, clocking up jail time in 3 different countries. In 2002 he was caught, convicted and served time in Japan for attempting to smuggle in 4 kg of marijuana. 6 years ago in France he was caught carrying ecstasy and did several months behind bars. And I had already found out about his misadventures in Hong Kong in 2009 when he was convicted for carrying doctored passports when the actual crime was probably something more sinister, like people smuggling.

I pointed out to Alex that my friend was justifiably worried about his passport, not just that it had gone, but what had happened to it. Would his name come before Homeland Security when someone with a beard that hadn't been trimmed in years was found using it? Alex explained that he had tried to help my friend out with a visa issue and the person he had retained had in turn ripped him off. Alex claimed that he had given the passport to a contact and paid that person 85,000 baht, for which my friend had paid Alex 50,000 baht up front with the rest to follow when everything was resolved. The passport was never returned.

Was this BS? I'd already dug up dirt on Alex taking dodgy passports across borders. Alex explained that a passport reported stolen in Bangkok would be entered in to a computer and would be no good to anyone. He also went on to say that stolen passports don't actually go for silly money. Who knows what the truth is, but Alex's explanations don't make sense. Besides, Alex simply wouldn't have the contacts he claimed to have and what he was promising would require different people in different departments, not just one person.

Alex ran on Tuesday. He could see that things weren't working out as he had hoped and there were potential threats on the horizon from people he had pissed off. I guess he knew that the stories he had told had got back to those they were said about. Some people were seriously pissed off. Others were owed money. The bowl of tom yum goong had fallen off the table and its contents were all over the floor. It would be impossible to get it all back in the bowl. Things could never be the same in Bangkok for Alex and as far as his time in Thailand went, the sun had set.


Bangkok sunset


What actually happened on Tuesday was that Alex's girlfriend arrived home after work to find a "Sorry, darling, but this is goodbye" letter. Alex had decided it best to depart without telling anyone and apparently (this has not been able to be confirmed) selected a Sri Lankan Airways flight to London which would, despite a lengthy layover in Colombo, have him in the air before his girlfriend reached the condo. Again, we have no idea if Alex really left on this flight. He says he did, but who knows? Even in Thailand it isn't easy to verify this.

As far as I know Alex is back in the UK and Bangkok would seem to be a world away. He might be on another continent – we cannot be sure of just where he is – but Alex is far from being off the hook.

Reports to the British embassy of a passport being stolen by a British national have resulted in Interpol and SOCA (the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency) being informed.

One major bar owner who Alex made up some quite ridiculous stories about has said that he does not like anyone who conducts their business with him the way Alex did. Said bar owner is looking at filing criminal defamation charges in Thailand which would mean an arrest warrant issued in Alex's name, which would be good for 15 years.

Just a few weeks ago I was concerned that Alex was getting too close to his girlfriend too fast and talk of marriage was premature. Why the hurry? He was unmarried, had hundreds of millions of baht and was living in Bangkok. What more could a man ask for? 3 weeks later he has fled Bangkok leaving people out of pocket, reputations damaged and many fuming. Rather than warning Alex about rushing in to things, now I am warning the world about Alex.



* Due to information which came to light 2 days after originally publishing this story, some important edits have been made that correct some factual inaccuracies. I apologise for this but these edits could not be made until some people eventually revealed certain things, and others came clean and told the truth.





Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken at the entrance to Terminal 21. Where is this week's photo taken?


FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEKWhere would you rather be?

Bangkok to get 16 million visitors in 2013? In the same league with London, Paris, Singapore and New York, says a MasterCard survey. Well ask yourself: among those five cities, which have efficient law enforcement / emergency medical services, reasonably tidy streets, and fixed prices for admission to tourist attractions regardless of national origin? And which has gemstone scams, motorbike-snatch-thieves, police who conduct random searches of specific phenotypes, selective enforcement of laws including fines for littering, tangled wires running above every street, and transsexual pickpockets working the (broken) sidewalks? Or just ask yourself one question: if you suddenly became unconscious on the street, through accident or illness, in which of those five cities would you like to be?

Retirees.

One thing that resonates with me in Thailand is how Westerners feel they are being priced out of the retirement market. Everyone wants their cake and to eat it too. I imagine that on a small retirement income, one would have to make major sacrifices, but would still come out better than living in the west. The online dating game. I am following with great interest the reaction to farang men using dating sites to bed a string of respondents. There certainly are two sides to this as a lot of women are only in it for the money. I must confess to a small lie about myself on ThaiFriendly. I put my age down as 65, rather than my real 69. I only contacted one woman and when I found out she previously had a farang husband who died in an accident and she had a string of properties and houses far beyond what she could get legitimately have acquired I quickly lost interest. However, less than a week after joining ThaiFriendly I received a response from a fantastic lady. I told her my real age and she had no problem with it. She has no need for money from anyone as she has the means to generate her own. I'll have to wait about a year before I can boast too much about her but believe strongly that she is a rare jewel (very honest, not jealous and genuinely wanting a partner to share her life). After we got to know each other she deleted her ThaiFriendly account and I deleted mine. However, she asked a few friends of hers to try to contact me through ThaiFriendly to see if I really had deleted my account. My girlfriend also turns up on my doorstep at any hour of any day without notice to check up on me. Since she is an intelligent lady I am hoping that at some point she will see that I am not the cheating type. I would be stark raving mad to try to cheat on her. Bar Bar Patpong


It's the little things that count.

I have to agree that we have no grounds of complaint when it comes to the price of drinks or services provided. I cannot comment on the gogo bars but I do enjoy spending 3 evenings a week at my local beer bar area here in Jomtien. I have now spent 27 months here in Jomtien and have moved to my 3rd bar. Why? Definitely not the cost. The prices of beer, wine and top shelf drinks have not changed, but the attitude of bar owners and staff have dramatically changed. First, why do bars with a majority of foreign customers play Thai soccer games at full volume? Why only play Manchester United matches at full volume and why only play Isaan music at full volume? Why are bargirls able to sit around a bottle of local whiskey all night and not work? And heaven forbid if you complain to the farang owner who will always defer to his Thai wife who in turn will ignore you at the least, or make sure your beer is warm and served last. At least my latest bar is run by a hands on farang who listens to his customers. And I am so sick of these girls after having their first drink with you pushing like hell to either ring the bell or buy their friend(s) a drink. On the other hand, trying to find a girl who can speak even the most rudimentary level of English is getting harder and harder. The beer bars here is Jomtien are cutting their own throats. Not because of price, but because of poor service. I can't remember the last time I walked into a bar and had a lovely, semi-proficient English speaking lass wipe my face, neck and upper back with an ice-cold towel. It's the little things that count.

The Budget Hilton.

On my first trip to Bangkok in 1990 I stayed in the Budget Hilton. Back then it was the Boston Inn. It and the Malaysia Hotel down the street were built by American military engineers for soldiers on R&R from the Vietnam war. Behind the front desk at the Boston there is a military insignia and signatures all around it from visiting soldiers. I remember seeing "flower child" and peace signs and names. I meant to photograph it then, but I never did.

The same complaints again and again.

It was interesting to read the story of the Chinese ambassador's comments about the shortcomings of tourism in Thailand. Only he would get away with it. The Thais are on a roll with huge tourist numbers happening. Many of the issues raised by tourists never seem to get addressed. A lady in our local supermarket was so looking forward to her trip to Thailand with her husband and 2-year old child. The stupid travel agent here booked them into a hotel in Patpong! They loved Bangkok but the taxi drivers left a bad taste in their mouths. Virtually every driver refused to use the meter and in the short time they were there, they figured out the drivers were asking prices way above what they should have been. The old assumption that farang are all rich was very wrong in this case. These people live in government housing and are low income as the husband has a disability (not obvious to the eye). They had saved hard for this holiday. The other big, big negative for me is the lack of seatbelts in the rear seat of taxis. There is nothing more unnerving than a taxi ride to the airport at 120 km / hour without seatbelts! Until the day comes where another low cost Asian country comes to the fore, the Thais will do nothing to change anything. Very sad, as Thailand is an amazing place.


Girl of the week

Gai, gogo dancer, Playskool, ground floor, Nana Plaza

A 19-year old from Khon Kaen, she says she likes eating farangs!



Playskool Nana Plaza



Playskool Nana Plaza



Playskool Nana Plaza


The owners of Nana Plaza spent a lot of money improving the property in general and now the major player in the plaza with many bars has all sorts of plans in store. Perhaps the biggest news is that construction of Angelwitch 2 will commence on July 1st in the bar currently called Hollywood. While the original Angelwitch continues to do well, the owners feel that it may have drifted a little away from its rock / gothic theme. It is hoped that Angelwitch 2 will recapture the atmosphere that made the original Angelwitch such a success.

Nana Liquid, which closed a few months ago, is going to reopen as Nana Disco. The concept is simple – it will revert to being a freelancer venue. It's hoped that it will reopen around the middle of July.

G Spot in the back corner of Nana Plaza's second floor is a great brand name, but in fairness the venue has seen better days. It is slated for reconstruction to begin on August 1st on what will be called Nana U, a university-themed gogo bar. Now with a name like that I guarantee it will be a winner!

There was talk that Spirit House on the ground floor would become a fast food outlet but that has been shelved and instead it will become Monster Ink and Monster Bar, a bar and tattoo saloon in which you will be able to get inked up and have a honey right there holding your hand at the same time.

In what comes as a nice surprise, the beer bars in the middle of the plaza are going to be redeveloped and there will be touch screens installed for customers to play with.

Getting away from nightlife for a moment, Duke's is NOT coming back to Bangkok, at least not in Sukhumvit soi 33 where a sign is displayed outside calling for applications for staff. I've commented a few times on how progress has been ultra slow. I can now confirm it's not slow; it has completely stalled. Duke's will, however, open a new branch at the new Promenade shopping centre in Chiang Mai. Non-residents might wonder why we expats get so excited about Duke's. It's just farang food, right? You can get a good hamburger in some places, good pizza at other places, and good steak and ribs at other venues again. At Duke's everything was really good so no matter what Western food you fancied, they had it. You can't say that about many places in town.

Billboard on the top floor of Nana Plaza is booming. There's a new Moulin Rouge show being performed at 11:30 PM every night which is a nice mix of classy and sexy at the same time.

Playskool on the ground floor of Nana Plaza is worth a look. I hadn't been in there for years and checked it out this week. The music is still good and they have at least one long-term staff member who a mate recognised from when he celebrated his birthday there in the '90s. She confirmed she has been working at Playskool for 18 years. She must have a few stories!

Spanky's Pattaya branch, in Soi Diamond, has new shows and hot, new young girls. Spanky's management and the girls are trying hard to put back the "fun and party feeling" into the bar.


Strikers


Strikers Sports Bar on Soi Nana is a curious venue, a cross between an open air beer bar and a sports bar. And to really complicate things it has coyote dancers too! It's clean, spacious, has a bunch of friendly girls and unlike so many bars, it's actually relaxing. You can watch sport, or relax, or find a friendly lady, or all of the above!

Checkinn99, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 5 and 7, will hold a Red Night next Saturday, June 15th, from 8 PM. Apart from being an excuse for one of their theme parties, it is also co-owner Mook's birthday. For those who haven't seen the nightly cabaret sets by the Filipina house band, they will be putting on a Mama Mia special set. It should be a fun night!

June is one of the quietest months, it's the low season and in Pattaya it's said that there are fewer naughty boys around. Girls are hurting and some have found a new way to make up their income. Creative freelancers are hitting the customer up for much more than the going rate after the act. Some are telling guys they want 5,000 baht – and if it is not paid they will call the police. If the money is not forthcoming she dials a number and two guys show up in a uniform and demand money. They're not police but thugs in on the scam. The easiest way to deal with such ladies is to make a telephone call to the tourist police in which case she will probably become scarce. A friend who is a resident of Sin City heard of 3 incidents in one day this week, suggesting that it is becoming common.

The rumour mill has it that Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page played guitar with the band in Five Star Bar in Soi Cowboy several weeks back and photos have been put up inside the bar showing him with the band. Many celebrities spend time in Bangkok, but then again, maybe it wasn't him but a look alike. Page is no spring chicken today and after today's opening piece, there are plenty of odd folks in Bangkok pretending to be someone they're not.

Three British stand-up comedians aim to raise funds for the Bangkok Free Ambulance Service. The event will be hosted at the new space at Glowfish, just above Kuppadeli on Asoke. With food, cheap drinks, a live band and DJ they hope to raise funds for the Bangkok Free Ambulance service so they can go on saving lives. Marko, the kiwi ambulance guy, I profiled a couple of years back will be the beneficiary. The Bangkok Free Ambulance has helped over 10,000 people already in Thailand.

Private Dancer, the popular gogo bar just off Walking Street managed by popular bar boss Ricky, has a bunch of promotions every month with the free curry nights especially popular.


Private Dancer


I always feel like paying for things with old banknotes and keeping the new banknotes in my wallet, but perhaps that's not the best thing to do when it comes to 20 baht notes. New 20 baht banknotes were released a couple of months back but the ticket machines for both the underground and the skytrain still only accept the old banknotes. With this in mind, if you end up with a mix of new and old 20 baht notes and you use either of the Bangkok train systems and don't have a prepaid card then it might be an idea to use the newer banknotes first as the machines won't accept them.

I also note that fares on the skytrain have crept up by a few baht and where fares used to always be in denominations of 5 baht i.e. 15, 20, 25 baht etc, now there are fares like 17 baht and 22 baht. If you're not careful you can end up with a pocket of change – even more reason to get a prepaid card!

Is Bangkok the only city in the world where describing a resident expat as "normal" is a compliment?! In the West being called normal is almost like calling someone boring, whereas here it's almost a legitimate term to describe someone who isn't a schmuck, a scheister, or a sexpat!

With regards to today's opening piece, when you apply for a visa extension or a work permit in Thailand, your passport is not usually retained by any government authority. It may be looked at and it may be photocopied, but it is almost always returned to you. Do not let anyone take your passport, other than embassies or consulates when you apply for a visa to visit another country! The one exception may be some provincial Immigration department offices which may retain it in the case of visa extensions on the grounds of retirement.

A Sukhumvit Road hotel is for sale! This 24-room central Bangkok hotel is described as being in good condition, fully furnished and has a large bar. The asking price is 11,000,000 baht. The owner would also consider the sale of 50% of the business to a buyer who has Bangkok tourism experience and could assist in developing the occupancy rate, in which case the price would be 4,000,000 baht. If interested, email : [email protected].

When I first came to Thailand, most English teachers had less baht in their pockets than other foreigners and Bangkok-based retirees were amongst the wealthiest expats, and tended to be big spenders. These days it often seems that retirees – specifically British retirees – are amongst the poorest and reluctant to part with their baht while language teachers are doing just fine.



Quote of the week, "What came first, the gem or the scam?"

Reader's story of the week comes from Korski, "6,000 Paedphoiles And Counting".

Hundreds of Thai women have been tricked in to smuggling drugs across international borders.

It is feared that the lofty commissions that Phuket tuktuk drivers are demanding could seriously hurt tourism on the island.

An Aussie farmer claims he was conned by his Thai fiancée out of the equivalent of 15 million baht.

Brilliance from NotTheNation with a young American family getting lost in Bangkok's Soi Arab!

A dog in Bangkok carries a tiny baby to safety after finding her left for dead in roadside rubbish dump!





Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal

Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.

Question 1: 1. I have discovered my Thai wife, who I married in an amphur registration in Thailand, already had another husband from a marriage performed overseas in my home country (the UK) which was never ended. The UK authorities deem the second marriage, to me, void. Legally it therefore never existed and indeed the person concerned is guilty of bigamy in the UK. I have informed the police and received a UK police incident number. What is my position in Thailand though? She did not register her first marriage in Thailand but she has declared on the amphur forms, in Thai, that she is free to marry. Do I still need to complete a divorce from her in Thailand and has she committed fraud in Thailand by doing this?

2. We have joint property in the form of a car. This was registered in both names originally and both names appear in the blue book for the car. She has stolen the blue book and disappeared. I cannot therefore either tax or insure the car. How can I proceed legally so I can keep the car legal and on the road?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Part 1: If she lied at the Amphur at the marriage registration then the marriage is voidable as it is illegal to marry more than one person. You will have to petition the Thai Family Court at the district either where your marriage was registered or where she is registered in a blue house book in order to have the marriage terminated. After termination she would face criminal charges for making a false statement. The Prosecutor for that district would proceed with legal action.

Part 2: You will need to make a police report that you lost the document. Please note that you should not mention that she took it as she is also considered as co-owner (she has the right to hold the book). You will have to inform the police that the document(s) are lost and could not be located anywhere. Once completed, you will need to take this police report to the Land Transport Department, check with them what documents they require (e.g. letter of verification) from you in order to issue you with a new Vehicle Registration Booklet without her presence. Remember that the car is co-owned, there are 2 names which are indicated and recorded as the owners. So normally this would mean that you would need her to be present at the Land Transport Department to complete the process.

Question 2: I went through a village wedding ceremony about a year ago. We have not registered the marriage to date but plan to do so later this year. I will receive a substantial sum of money later this year, before we register the marriage. As I understand it, half of what I earn or receive after we are married automatically belongs to my wife. In law, does the marriage date mean the date we have the village ceremony or the date of the registration of the marriage? If I create a family trust in my own country to manage and distribute the money, can she get access to this money in the event of a divorce?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The marriage would begin with the legal registration at the District Office and any assets you acquire before this time would not be considered marital assets. Only assets obtained after legal registration are considered marital assets and are subject to equal division upon divorce unless you can prove that the asset was the result of transforming one asset obtained before marriage into another type of asset (i.e. using personal savings obtained before the marriage to buy a condo). If the trust fund is created after the marriage then it is subject to division and if created before, any assets contributed during the marriage would also be subject to division but not the initial amount. You may wish to consider drafting a prenuptial agreement with Sunbelt Asia to ensure your assets are secure.



Question 3: My wife is recently pregnant. I am a fervent anti vaccinationist. What is the law pertaining to vaccination in Thailand. My wife says you have to obey what the doctor says but I think she is a typical Thai and does not question authority. Is there any legal document I can produce to a doctor banning them from vaccinating my wife (if she agrees) (they often give flu vaccines to pregnant women) and my child when it is born. I also have 2 children aged 2 and 4 completely unvaccinated. So far they have escaped under the radar. Is there anything that I can produce for school to avoid them being vaccinated at school without my permission. My eldest daughter, 11 years old, just told the doctor that we had already taken her for her flu vaccine so she avoided that one but my two youngest are not capable of lying like that.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: There is no legal requirement that you, your wife or children must be vaccinated but she will need to inform the attending doctor of her wish. A doctor vaccinating your children will require a consent form, which you do not have to sign. Some schools may require the student to be vaccinated before they will allow them to attend but it is not a legal requirement.



Thailand mobile phone


A few years back I ranted about the culture of mobile phone usage in Thailand. Many of those frustrations continue today and extend to the internet too. I simply cannot understand how some have ridiculously unreasonable expectations about the length of time they expect someone should take to respond to a text or an email. I bring this up because some readers seem to think that if they have not had a reply to an email within 40 minutes it's time to resend their email and ask why I have not responded. Crazy! I know some have a love affair with their mobile phone and some cannot tear themselves away from the 'net. I might run a website, but I am not one of these people. Surely the real world is more important than the cyber world?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Firehouse