efe-epaBangkok

The thousands of foreign tourists walking past the grassy lot of Chuvit Park on Bangkok's central Sukhumvit Road on Wednesday likely know little to nothing of the former Thai businessman after whom the park is named.

Chuwit Kamolvisit has achieved fame, or some would say notoriety, as a former pimp turned politician and activist.

As one of Thailand's biggest owners of massage parlours, which are often fronts concealing a thriving illegal sex trade, Kamolvisit was once a major player in the southeast Asian nation's prostitution industry.

A police probe launched by the Department of Special Investigations in 2017 revealed that black money from Thailand's sex industry is being laundered through various mainstream channels, including sports teams and the stock market.

The DSI launched the investigation following the testimony of a young woman who was rescued from a brothel run by a man called Kampol Wirathepsuporn, who has 12 arrest warrants against him for human trafficking and child prostitution, and is currently a fugitive.

"More than decade and a half ago, Kampol bought me a Victoria's Secret" and two other establishments, Chuwit, who claims to have helped the police identify Wirathesuporn as the owner of Victoria's Secret, from where the Thai police had rescued 20 women Jan. 12, told EFE.

Chuwit said Kampol and the sex industry mafias have been using the Stock Exchange of Thailand to launder illegal money.

"The main piece (for money laundering) is a well-known broker in the Stock Exchange and who handles the finances of several people with dubious businesses. This man knows the legal loopholes to acquire shares with money of illicit origin," Chuwit said, referring to the stockbroker as "Mister C."

The charts of half a dozen companies from different sectors show an abrupt fall during the beginning of the trading session on the morning of Jan. 15, the first day after the police raid against the brothel.

The police, together with Securities and Exchange Commission, are investigating this sudden depreciation in companies - from construction firms to communication groups - and which, according to Chuwit, have a common shareholder in Kampol.

Among the papers seized in the brothel is a list of special clients, including more than 20 government officials.

Former head of the National Police and current president of the Thai Football Federation, Somyot Poompanmoung, admitted last week to having received a loan of 300 million baht ($9.5 million) from Kampol.

The ex-police chief acknowledged to reporters that he has been a personal friend of Kampol for more than 20 years, but claimed he was unaware of his illegal businesses.

Somyot, who was interrogated by the DSI after his name appeared in Kampol's financial transactions, said he returned the loan and that the whole transaction was legal, although he is yet to provide evidence backing his claim.

Chuwit says that Kampol also used a first division football team from northern Thailand and purchased land in the southern province of Phang Nga to launder illegally obtained money.

The Thai investigation department said they have busted the corruption network set up by Kampol.

Local media have speculated that the recent operation is motivated politically, something that the police denies.

Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, the country has been a favored destination for sex tourism, a vast sector that according to estimates moves more than $6.4 billion per year and employs between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers.

By Noel Caballero