Three executives of firms linked to “zero-dollar” tours are wanted for tax evasion. (Photo from @1155TPB Tourist Police Bureau Facebook page)

An executive of a business accused of profiting from “zero dollar” tours has been arrested at a house in Taling Chan district of Bangkok for alleged tax evasion worth at least 7.7 billion baht.

The raid on Saturday was the latest chapter in a saga that dates back to late 2016, when 13 people were charged with operating an illegal tour business. The court dismissed those charges last August for lack of evidence. Assets seized from some of the defendants were later ordered returned.

A combined team of police commandos, tourist police and other units, armed with search and arrest warrants, on Saturday searched the house at the Panuland housing estate in Bang Ramat area. Owner Thongchai Rojrungrangsi, 61, was not home at the time.

Nisa Rojrungrangsi, 62, the wife of Mr Thongchai and chairwoman of another business under the family-owned OA Transport Group, was apprehended on charges of tax evasion, said Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, the Tourist Police Bureau deputy chief who led the raid.

Saithip Rojrungrangsi, an executive of embattled OA Transport Co, and her brother speak to reporters in September last year after the dismissal of an earlier criminal case. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Authorities for years have been pursuing OA Transport, which operates hundreds of tour buses and has links to numerous other businesses that cater to tourists. They claim the companies have made a fortune from “zero dollar” tours in which foreigners, mainly Chinese, are lured into buying cheap tour packages in Thailand but forced to buy unusually expensive souvenirs and services during their stay.

The Revenue Department asserts that OA and its affiliated businesses earned some 30 billion baht from sales of goods and services between 2011 and 2016, but submitted false tax records that robbed the state of 7.7 billion baht. This prompted the department to file a complaint with the Economic Crime Suppression Division police.

The Criminal Court on Friday approved arrest warrants for Mr Thongchai, Mrs Nisa and their daughter Saithip Rojrungrangsi, 36, for colluding in tax evasion.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate said police would continue to seartch for Mr Thongchai and Ms Saithip.

Prosecutors first brought a case against four members of the Rojrungrangsi family in October 2016, following raids on companies believed to be involved in what was claimed to be the country’s biggest zero-dollar tour network.

They were among 13 people linked to OA and five other companies who were ultimately charged with a variety of offences including operating illegal tour businesses and money laundering. But the Criminal Court threw out the case in August last year, saying evidence presented by the prosecution was weak.

The Civil Court last month threw out a petition seeking to seize assets worth almost 4 billion baht from the defendants. It said the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) had failed to produce evidence proving the assets and their owners were connected with illegal criminal activities and money laundering.

The court also ordered the return of assets that had been frozen by Amlo, including 76 bank accounts worth 3.65 billion baht.

Tourist Police Bureau deputy chief Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, centre, holds a briefing about the latest police operation against executives of firms linked to OA Transport Co and alleged “zero-dollar” tours. (Photo from @1155TPB Tourist Police Bureau Facebook page)

News Reporter

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