Monday, 13 June 2011

Thai guide leaves trail of fraud

Pedro Martí and wife
TARRAGOSA/Tortosa (Agencies) The last anybody heard from Pedro Martí Alcántara was on May 20 when he sent an email to some of the 1,000 people who thought they had booked a trip to Thailand through his website. "I am putting back the issuing of the reservation by four days due to a Buddhist festival in Thailand," he wrote. "The telephone doesn't stop ringing, I'm going as fast as I can. I can't cope with the pressure. I only ask for a bit of patience and you will all have your documentation. I'm sorry." After that the man from Tortosa (Tarragona province) hung a "closed" sign on his webpage, Siente Tailandia (or, Feel Thailand), and simply disappeared.
The Catalan police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, has issued an international arrest warrant for Martí. It is too early to talk about figures, as more affected people are coming forward every day, but the fraud could exceed 700,000 euros. The most fortunate have lost 300 euros, but others have paid 1,200 euros a head for flights and hotels.>

On his website Martí presented himself, alongside his wife, a Thai national, in an amicable manner. He offered some of the lowest prices on the market and resolved every minute detail customers had about the offers - including those of people who, because they couldn't find references for him, at first thought it might be a hoax. Maybe it was...
"He was super-nice, he called me from Thailand and we trusted him completely," says Antoni Español, one of those affected.
Anti-bullfight activist
On at least two occasions the trips did exist and turned out well. Español's wife, Laura, tracked down a couple who had traveled with him in March and they only said wonderful things.
Some of those affected think Martí, who was a candidate in Tarragona for the Anti-Bullfighting Party Against the Mistreatment of Animals in the 2008 general elections, suddenly realized he had so much money in the bank that he decided to disappear and enjoy the trappings of wealth; others say he had it all planned out.
"He did a couple of trips, planted the seed and then cashed in," says Enrique Núñez, 69, who thought he would be traveling to Thailand with his wife and two friends this year. Each has lost 1,200 euros a head.
At least three couples are currently stuck in Thailand without hotel reservations or excursions to go on. David Curto and Georgina Caballé, both in their twenties, arrived at Bangkok airport on their honeymoon on Wednesday May 31 expecting to be picked up by Martí. No one was there and when they tried his phone, it was disconnected. Unable to speak English, they made their own way to their hotel, only to discover there was no room in their name.
With the complaints continuing to come in, the Mossos d'Esquadra believe they will all be grouped together into one case in the coming days. The National Police Group for Technological Crimes are currently following Martí's trail. It might lead to Thailand.

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