Saturday, September 25, 2021

Thai man charged over Phuket waterfall murder as officials fear effect on tourism

The incident has shocked many around the world and could negatively affect the Phuket sandbox scheme to promote tourism.

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Thai police have charged a 27-year-old man in connection with the death of a Swiss woman whose body was found near a waterfall on the resort island of Phuket last week.

Local officials identified the victim as Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, aged 57. Police found her face down in the water covered by a black sheet, with her phone, shorts and trainers nearby.

Theerawut Tortip told reporters at a police press conference that he killed the woman and stole from her, the BBC is reporting.

He was charged with murder and robbery causing death, Deputy National Police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said.

“The cause of death is yet to be confirmed as the autopsy report has yet to be released by authorities,” Kissana told a press conference.

Theerawut, who attended the press conference via a phone-in accompanied by his lawyer, said he had taken roughly 300 baht (US$9) after strangling Sauvain-Weisskopf. Local reports say he spent the money on drugs and alcohol.

“I would like to apologise to the family of the tourist and plead for all Thais to forgive me,” he said.

He was detained after CCTV footage showed him going to the waterfall around the same time Sauvain-Weisskopf went there, police said.

Her death came just weeks after Thailand launched its “Phuket Sandbox” scheme on July 1. She reportedly arrived in Thailand on July 13.

Under the programme, vaccinated tourists can come to the island without the need to quarantine, but cannot travel to the mainland within 14 days.

Sauvain-Weisskopf’s death has prompted local officials to step up security on the island amid concerns that it is a huge setback to the sandbox scheme.

The incident has shocked many around the world and could have a devastating impact on the country’s image, according to local media.

The Bangkok Post reports that Phuket authorities will be making all-out efforts to restore tourist confidence following the murder, which they fear will deal a serious blow to the sandbox programme.

Although police spent only two days tracking down the suspect after discovering the body, local authorities and business operators agree there is much to do to restore the confidence of tourists says the Post.

Phuket governor Narong Woonciew said officials will survey unsafe areas in each community and put them under surveillance. He said collaboration from all sectors is a must and volunteers from the civil sector will be recruited to act as the eyes and ears of local authorities in deterring crimes.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the Tourism and Sports Ministry and TAT offices worldwide will evaluate the impacts on the sandbox tourist  scheme.

Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about 20% of the Thai economy.

More than 16,000 people have arrived in Phuket since the July 1 launch of the sandbox scheme.

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