Crowdfunding effort for alleged Dutch fraudster to bail him out of jail and fight fraud charges in court
The mother of 37-year-old Wesley Halbach’s two-year-old daughter told an online appeal that he was the ‘victim of a big set up’ brought about because he was ‘very naive to trust wrong people’. She has asked potential donors to consider the nightmare of the European’s life currently behind bars in a Phuket prison and pleaded for help to reunite him with his little girl.
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to try to bail a suspected fraudster, a Dutch national who police believe is responsible for conning Thai investors out of up to ฿100 million in an online Ponzi scheme.
A GoFundMe online appeal has been launched for 37-year-old Dutchman Wesley Halbach who was arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport in February as he was about to leave the country by Immigration Bureau police acting on the instructions of the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau.
Officers at the elite police unit, at the time, said they believed the man had already transferred as much as ฿100 million out of the country.
Police say he transferred up to ฿100 million offshore to 44 bank accounts before attempting to leave the country in February on a KLM flight home
Details of the case were given by Police Major General Charin Kopata who told reporters that the man had transferred funds believed to be linked with at least 1,000 victims to no less than 44 bank accounts offshore before flying off from Phuket to Bangkok and being later apprehended before boarding a flight in the capital out of the country.
The Dutchman and his family were about to board a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight to the Netherlands when he was stopped and detained on a warrant issued by Phuket Provincial Court.
New twist on the story, Halbach was the victim of a ‘set up’ and needs financial assistance
Now, in another version of the story, a woman named on the GoFundMe appeal as Sanna Kilpinen, who identifies herself as the mother of the man’s two-year old daughter, has posted a picture of Mr Halbach with the young child on the GoFundMe page claiming that the Dutchman was the victim of an elaborate setup.
She said that Halbach finds himself experiencing perhaps any foreigner’s worst nightmare as he has been banged up in a Thai prison as police prepare their case against him.
It is understood that the Dutchman is being held at Phuket’s newly opened Provincial Court prison where overcrowding is less pronounced but where each prisoner shares a room with up to 30 more inmates and has only a rubber mattress on the floor with 50cm of width to sleep at night.
The new prison was built at a cost of nearly ฿800 million. Prisoners were moved there from the old Phuket Prison late last year. It is understood the facility is now home to nearly 5,000 prisoners.
Speaking to the local newspaper, The Phuket News, the Provincial Prison Commissioner, Mr Suchart Silapachai detailed the improved sleeping conditions for prisoners.
‘They will have at least 50 cm across by 180-200 cm per person guaranteed, likely or more,’ he explained but, in any event, the situation was an improvement on the conditions at the old Phuket town prison which had a population at over 300% capacity when the new facility opened.
Charged with crimes relating to what Thai police believe to be a massive fraud linked with the SPM Shopping Mall Ponzi scheme network
He has been charged with a range of crimes, all alleging he committed serious fraud after police were inundated with thousands of complaints from people in Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui after payments on what police believe to have been a classic pyramid scheme, were suspended by his online business which traded as the SPM Shopping Mall.
The scheme, which police say involved the Dutch national establishing up to a dozen hard to trace Chinese registered domains, inviting members to like, share and generally increase enthusiasm for selected online properties with the promise of a regular return on investments at low entry levels for as little as a few thousand baht.
Many takers of what seemed like an implausible investment leaving people in tears after they paid in
In Thailand’s current hard pressed economic environment there were many takers who were promised even more lucrative returns if they invested more and they did.
Kanchai Khlaikhleung of the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau dealt with many distraught victims who reported the scam.
Some investors admitted to her that they were initially suspicious but could not resist the temptation. Nonetheless, a large number of participants were left devastated when the money dried up just weeks before Mr Halbach suddenly decided to return to the Netherlands with his wife and young daughter.
Speaking to the media in February, Ms Kanchai was clear about what happened: ‘At this stage, about 1,000 people have identified themselves as victims. Many of them came with tears on their faces, as they had spent all of their savings on this investment. Most of the victims are living in Phuket and on Ko Samui.’
A Ponzi scheme that police insist was the work of Halbach who was attempting to flee the country
‘Some of them understood well how the scheme worked, some just wanted to try it, some had no idea that it was a Ponzi scheme,’ the police investigator said. ‘The man, his wife and child were about to flee the country. If they could get out of the country, about ฿100 million would have gone with them, as they had already transferred it to the banks in a neighbouring country.’
The stakes are inordinately high for Mr Halbach if convicted of the serious charges ranged against him.
European faces an overwhelming prison sentence if convicted of public fraud which is severely punished in Thailand with punitive jail sentences
Similar scams have seen Thai fraudsters jailed not just for decades but for hundreds and even thousands of years by Thai courts, in recent years, who take an extraordinarily dim view of offences relating to fraud committed wholesale on the public.
The purpose of the funding appeal is to help him pay for proper legal representation, what the mother of his child terms ‘fighting for justice’ in the case. The appeal has so far raised nearly €1,245 from a €9,000 target or ฿47,000 of ฿334,000 given by 27 donors.
‘We are living a nightmare’ said the sponsor of the crowdfunding effort, the mother of Halbach’s child
Ms Sanna claims the Dutchman is the ‘victim of a big set up’ and was simply ‘very naive to trust wrong people’ landing him in his current situation.
‘We are living a nightmare,’ she explained as she described the harsh and oppressive conditions of a Thai prison with overcrowding, disease, sweltering heat and lack of food and water.
She says she has known Mr Halbach for five years and that he is ‘one of the kindest people who I know’.
She points out that the funding will be used to cover the expenses of a lawyer and an application to the court seeking bail in the case before the Phuket Provincial Court.
About the Author
Carla Boonkong is a magazine writer who writes extensively about woman’s issues in Thailand. One of her key subjects is the story of Thailand’s growing influence in the world and the role played by Thai women in the process. She is now a staff writer with Thai Examiner.com in Bangkok. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.