Oil smuggling in South remains lucrative illicit business

Oil smuggling in southern border provinces is still rampant although there have been efforts in the past to put an end to it as this lucrative business  is believed to be a source of funds to support insurgency.

Reasons that the oil smuggling could not be suppressed and routed permanently are that state officials, politician, influential tycoons, are behind.

The recent arrest of former commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) on five serious charges which include bribery,  exposed the fact that there are bribe-taking police officers who assist the smuggling activities.

On almost all suburban roads in the southern border provinces, oil containing in soft drink bottles is a common sight.

They are oil that have been smuggled from Malaysia, which is very popular among local car and motorbike users because its price is much lower than those sold in service stations.

A one-litre bottle is usually sold for 27-30 baht while pump price is almost 40 baht for premium gasoline.

The wide margin for the fuel price in Thailand and Malaysia is therefore great incentive for smugglers from all levels such as ant armies smuggling fuel in cans using motorcycles and travelling on jungle paths, to fishing trawlers hiding several thousand litres of fuel in store room earlier used for storing their fish catch from the sea.

A litre of fuel is about 10 baht different in both countries.

Gasoline  is sold in Malaysia at 27 baht a liter, compared to 40 baht a liter in here, one motorist said and continued “We will  continue to buy cheap oil.”

He also said smuggled oil has been on sales for many decades since he  first arrived to work in the South and  saw people buying glass-bottle fuel.

Authorities admitted that smuggling has been a problem in Thailand for decades.

The problem stems partly from a huge difference in price of fuel sold in Thailand and its neighbouring Malaysia.

Various types of transports to smuggle oil into Thailand have been employed by smugglers.

It is estimated that million litres  of oil are smuggled into the country daily.

But no real action has been taken because the business is backed up by influential tycoons, state officials and politicians.

An influential tycoon identified as Sahachai Jiensermsin, known as Sia Jo, who is suspected to be involved in oil smuggling activities, was arrested at the order of the National Council for Peace and Order in July.

But three months later,  Sia Jo managed to escape  from a detention cell after a local court sentenced him to one year and nine months in prison for forging official documents.

A local customs official said fuel is frequently smuggled by sea and river and the The Golok River is a popular route where many low-profile smugglers have been spotted and arrested.

But most of them, however, were  released soon afterward. None of the big fishes have ever been arrested.

Oil smuggling in the South is multi-billion baht business and it is run by a illegal cartel involving influential figures. It is also understood that the problem is linked to insurgency in the region. Incomes from the activities are believed to be used to fund local insurgents.

Although there is no sufficient evidence to identify who is really behind the oil smuggling, but the recent arrest of former chief of the Central Investigation Bureau indicates that authorities begin to take the issue seriously.