Anyone who meets him face-to-face must be impressed by his charisma and straightforward views about politics, corruption, his business – and himself. But Mr Chuwit apparently feels remorse for some of his past; he has sold the six luxurious massage parlours.
Everyone knows what the words “massage parlour” really stand for and what transpires inside such establishments. Says Mr Chuwit: “The customers come to the place like that not because we have a comfortable sofa or good decorations, but because of the girls.”
His 360-degree makeover, from a “sinner” to an “angel”, must have impressed the voters who gave him third place in the Bangkok Governor election in 2004, and a year later elected him as a member of Parliament.
In January 2003, Mr Chuwit was accused of having hired men dismantle around 100 shops and bars on a plot of land he owned in Sukhumvit Soi 10. (The Criminal Court dismissed all charges against him on July 13 this year.) “The police told me to pay (for the damaged property) because I owned the land. I paid them almost 10 million baht. They asked me for an additional three million baht and I refused. I was arrested and spent one month in jail,” Mr Chuwit said of the event.
He denied any wrongdoing and was released on bail. Furious over his arrest, he decided to expose police corruption to the media and even turned up at the residence of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with a list of the names of about 1,000 police officers, including ten generals, whom he said he had bribed in connection with his massage parlour business.
Shortly after the revelations, he disappeared for two days, and claimed later to have been abducted and abused by police. Others alleged that he had staged his own abduction.
Maybe their doubts about what exactly had happened were reinforced by his subsequent theatrical stunts – like when he smashed bathtubs with a sledgehammer to show that he was no longer involved in the massage parlour business, or when he laid down in a casket to show that the “old Chuwit” had died.
Later he played a key role in a demonstration outside the US embassy in Bangkok, in which the US was accused of stealing a centuries-old royal Thai crown. He held up a model of the crown while the cameras were clicking and later submitted a letter to embassy officials demanding the return of the royal Thai head piece, then displayed at theAsian Art Museum in San Francisco.
Mr Chuwit claims that a visa refusal was linked to his effort to have the artifact returned to Thailand. “I wanted to visit my daughter in the United States for only three or four days. An embassy official refused to issue me a visa after questioning me for three hours,” he complained. Mr Chuwit says he now regrets having gotten into the massage business: “You can blame me for what I have done. I was then only 30, surrounded by beautiful girls, making a lot of money. I enjoyed the life. I shouldn’t have done it but I did.
When asked about how to tackle corruption, Mr Chuwit had plenty of advice. “Don’t pay,” he said. “But it is difficult. Because I stopped paying, I wasn’t able to operate my business even though it was perfectly legal. This is the system. How can people run casinos which are entirely illegal?
“Do you have corruption in Italy, Japan or the United States? Yes. Corruption is everywhere, but in Thailand it is so widespread and so easy to do. In Singapore you are jailed for corruption. Here in Thailand, when a traffic policeman stops you, you will give him 100 baht because it is convenient, and the majority of motorists prefer it.”
Problems led to politics
“In Western countries, people get into politics because they admire the system, but in Thailand people like me get into politics because they have problems. In the past, when people had a problem with the government they went to the jungle and became the communists. But now they get into politics and become politicians.
“I got into politics because I had problems with the police. My massage parlours paid taxes, I had licenses. But what about the illegal casinos? Do they pay taxes or have a license? No. Absolutely not, they don’t pay anything except bribes to the police,” Mr Chuwit lamented.
He said that when he was abducted his family was afraid. They went to the police station and told them he had been kidnapped, but at first the police did nothing, saying it wasn’t a kidnapping.
“Our society is very different from the West. This is very important and very clear. In western society, when someone does something wrong they try to help, not cover it up. But in Thailand, they do the wrong thing and repeat it again and again,” Mr Chuwit said.
He aslo said that his only business these days is running the Davis Hotel. He is very proud of one of his non-profit projects – ‘Chuwit Garden’, in Soi 10 Sukhumvit Road, a beautifully landscaped park on the same plot of land where the shops and bars were destroyed.
“I could have built a five star hotel or a department store there. I could do whatever I want. It is a very valuable property which I bought for 500 million baht and I can sell it now for 1 billion baht. But I do nothing with it, just keep it as a garden. I will pass the land to my children, I will keep it very tight,” Mr Chuwit pledged.
The interview with Chuvit Kamolvisit took place in his plush office inside a building behind the Davis Hotel in Sukhumvit Soi 24, which he also owns. He spoke in perfect English on many subjects. There was no need to prod him with questions as he described his action-packed life and addressed issues that made him a constant focus of media and public attention. He came off as very smart and convincing in the interview.