A Russian national arrested in Phuket is facing a fine and deportation for illegally renting a motorbike and working without a permit in Phuket.

Sakhu police said a Russian national had been arrested in Phuket for illegally renting out vehicles. The arrest was the first after police announced a crackdown on foreign rental firms and a raid on vehicle rental companies, the Phuket News reported.

The Russian, Nikolai Popovich, 26, was arrested as he handed over a red Honda CBR 650 motorbike to a Thai customer who turned out to be a disguised undercover police senior sergeant.

The police officer contacted Popovic via WhatsApp messenger and arranged to rent the motorbike for seven days at 3,000 baht per day. The police officer also asked for a discount of one thousand baht off the full rental amount of 21 thousand baht. The parties agreed to meet near Nai Yang Beach, near Phuket International Airport.

Popovich was detained when handing over the motorbike near The Title Residence Naiyang condominium, popular among Russian tourists.

The man is registered as living in another neighbourhood. The suspect’s address is the high-end Habitown Koh Kaew condominium complex, near the British International School Phuket and the Russian Consulate General.

Popovich has been charged with illegal employment and working without a permit. The Russians face a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 baht and subsequent deportation. The Sakhu Police Station report does not specify on which visa the Russian lived and worked illegally in Phuket.

It also remains to be seen whether Popovich was running an illegal vehicle rental business under his brand or with a company registered in Thailand. Popovic’s WhatsApp messenger account has also yet to be disclosed.

Last week, the Royal Thai Police launched a campaign targeting car and motorbike rental businesses in Phuket run by foreigners suspected of using nominee shareholders.

To mark the campaign’s launch, police raided a car and motorbike rental business on 19 March, seizing more than 100 vehicles.

Region 8 police chief Lieutenant General Surapong Thanomjit said five similar car and motorbike rental businesses with more than 1,000 vehicles are under investigation. The companies are suspected of using nominee shareholders to circumvent the Foreign Ownership Act. The nationalities of those involved in the investigation have not been disclosed.

Prime Minister Settha Thavisin was also concerned about the state of the tourism sector in Phuket, particularly crimes committed by tourists.

‘It has been discovered that many foreigners are committing crimes, including engaging in business dealings with Thai nationals,’ said Royal Thai Police spokesman Lieutenant General Achayon Kraithong, who visited the island on 19 March.

‘We need to mobilise to bring order and take complaints about such activities. We must crack down on those involved in illegal activities,’ the lieutenant general added.

‘Legal action is being taken against offenders, making Phuket a safe tourist town. Tourists who have been to Phuket will remain confident and decide to return next time. This will influence Phuket province’s tourism industry to become stable,’ Lieutenant General Achayon concluded.

The Royal Thai Police have dramatically stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal foreign businesses in Phuket, leading to the arrest and subsequent deportation of 50 foreign nationals for working illegally on the island between 1 October 2023 and 19 March 2024.

By making 50 arrests in five and a half months, Phuket Police has far surpassed the previous year’s results, when only 11 foreign nationals were arrested for illegal work in the 12 months from 1 November 2022 to 31 October 2023.

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