How I Got Involved in a Bangkok Million Dollar Jewelry Heist
by John Cooke
A couple of years back, in Bangkok, I got to know an American jewelry designer. We socialized a few times. He then asked me if I was interested in working for him part time â€“ a project. Always in need of extra cash, I said yes. I started on the project soon after. Once a week I would go in to see him. One evening I dropped by the office. I met his secretary on the way in. She looked very agitated. â€œSomeone has done something bad to the company,â€ she said.
I rushed to the designerâ€™s office. What the hell has happened, I asked him. He explained that one of his staff, a European guy, had stolen over a million dollars worth of jewelry and diamonds from the company safe over the weekend. The designer was angry, confused, stunned. I may have to shut down the company, if I canâ€™t get the stuff back, he said. He told me he had taken on the European a few months back. His work was good, he had trade experience, and I had trusted him with the contents of the safe, the designer explained. I listened to him and was sympathetic. His career could be ruined.
But, I had a confession to make. I dropped my bombshell. I told the designer that I had met the European once, and heard he was crooked. The designer exploded. If you knew he was a crook, why didnâ€™t you say something, he shouted. You have cost me a million dollars, he raged. I said itâ€™s not my fault. You employed him. Didnâ€™t you check him out? This is Bangkok, you canâ€™t trust anyone, I screamed back. For all I know maybe you knew he was a crook, I said. If that was the case, I didnâ€™t want to mention it to you, as I thought it was none of my business. He flashed a dirty look in my direction. The Thai secretary and her assistant had been in the office all the while. They just stood there staring at us both, probably wondering if it was going to get nasty. We both calmed down. Now, it was quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
The designer looked distressed. I told him I would him help him. Let me explain what I know, I said. I had seen the European around your office. I was sure he had seen me too, but we didnâ€™t speak. I then explained to the designer how I met the European a few years back.
I was with my Thai ex-girlfriend in Patpong, Bangkokâ€™s main nightlife area. We bumped into the European. He was with a tall, well built Thai man. The European knew my ex-girlfriend. He insisted we went for a drink with him. We sat outside a bar. Half a dozen staff quickly surrounded us. They all seemed to know the European, and were all over him, giving him the VIP treatment. He bought a round of drinks, including for all the staff. I told him about myself - small salary, divorced and nearly down and out. The European then started boasting of his wealth, and how women found him irresistible. I looked at my girlfriend. I just want to get away, I quietly moaned. Donâ€™t say anything bad, she whispered. He has big money and is a powerful man. He is a jewelry dealer, she said. He kept buying rounds, telling me how wonderful he was. At one point he leaned over me and said, make sure you take care of her, pointing to my girlfriend, or else. I felt small.
Then, he pulled out three passports. All three had his photo in, but each had a different name. One had the name of Richard Branson in! He also showed me business cards, all with a slightly different spelling of his own name and each one for a different company. He called over his Thai buddy, who had a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. The European told the Thai to open it. Inside, it was full of expensive looking jewelry. He pulled open the Thai blokeâ€™s jacket to reveal a shoulder holster with a gun in. The European smiled. My protection, he said. One more beer and they left. After theyâ€™d gone, I told my Thai girlfriend I was angry with her because of the situation she had put me in. She said sorry, but he is a powerful man with a bad reputation and he had given her money before. I am afraid of him, she said. She explained that he was a wanted man back in his own country. I was not surprised.
My story finished, the designer shook his head in amazement. My jewelry is probably already out of the country, he said. We made a list of places the European might have headed off to. I left him and went home. Not surprisingly, I didnâ€™t get much sleep that night.
The next day, I met the designer again and we swung into action. He had already contacted the Police, and they had visited his offices where they interviewed staff. One reported that the European had called him on Saturday night, the day of the robbery, and said he was drinking in Bangkok. Company staff set up a website to publicize the robbery. A wanted poster was printed, which included a recent picture of the European. I volunteered to distribute it around Patpong and email a press release, which Iâ€™d written, to new agencies and the Asian media. It was all I could do.
The reward was US$50,000. The Police had been to the Europeanâ€™s apartment. He had fled a few days earlier, leaving, not surprisingly, no forwarding address. The European had been clever. Stealing the jewelry on a Saturday allowed him three days, to the Tuesday - Monday was national holiday - before anyone at the designerâ€™s company discovered it had gone.
One Thai woman in the company was under suspicion. She was a close friend of the European, and had introduced him to the designer. The Police questioned her. They found a knife and porno in her bag. She was taken away for further questioning. Later I found out she was arrested as an accomplice â€“ she had helped to set the robbery up.
Because of the reward, the Police pulled out all the stops investigating. My ex-girlfriend chipped in. She remembered the European had a house in an area south west of Bangkok near the coast. This info was passed to the Police. The designer had found out that the European was wanted in own country for fraud, so my ex was right. He had been using a series of aliases â€“ the three passports.
A week after the robbery, I got a call from an associate of the designer. The European had been caught nearby his house outside of Bangkok. Nearly all the jewelry and diamonds stolen were recovered. His girlfriend, another accomplice, was arrested in Bangkok. The designer shot off to the provincial Police station to reclaim his jewels.
A bit later I heard that the European got three years in jail. Not too pleasant for someone used to the high life. On top of that, the Police in his own country would be waiting for him on his release from jail in Bangkok.
The designer, his career and company were saved. I told my ex. Pity him, going to jail, she said. "Iâ€™m glad he got caught. If the jewelry had not been recovered, the company would have had to shut down, with the loss of nearly 200 jobs".