Prostitution is illegal in Thailand but rarely prosecuted, and to get the authorities to look the other way, Chuwit Kamolvisit, said he gave police officers cash delivered in black bags, as well as Rolex watches and free services in his establishments.
As the super-pimp who once ran Thailand’s biggest brothel empire and then exposed the police kickbacks he had to pay for it to flourish, Chuwit Kamolvisit became the household name in Thailand. Chuwit has earned the reputation of an anti-corruption hero after repeatedly exposing police bribery and underground businesses linked to corrupt state officials.
The brothel king also famously known as the “godfather of sex” — Chuwit, 62, once owned six massage parlors in Bangkok where 2,000 women worked for him, according to a report in New York Times. Chuwit has now evolved from a massage-parlour tycoon to become a politician, a convict, a TV talk-show host, and a crusader against Thailand’s chronic corruption.
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand but rarely prosecuted, and to get the authorities to look the other way, he said he gave police officers cash delivered in black bags, as well as Rolex watches and free services in his establishments.
Starting in the early 1990s, he said, he paid law enforcement officers about $17 million in bribes over a decade to keep his massage parlor businesses running. Then, in 2003, a complex of bars and shops on a plot of land in downtown Bangkok was demolished by hundreds of men early one morning. Chuwit became the prime suspect after it emerged he had bought the land a few weeks before and had filed an application to build a luxury hotel on it.
He was arrested, and although soon out on bail, he knew he had lost his bribe-bought immunity. He was also accused of hiring underage girls to work in his massage parlors, though he was later acquitted on those charges.
But now, his career of calling out abuses of power is coming to an end. Not because he thinks he has helped rid Thailand of widespread corruption. But because he is dying. Diagnosed with Stage 3 liver cancer in July, he was given eight months to live, though patients can live longer.
“It is the advanced stage, final stage, it has spread,” Chuwit told time.com with a shrug. He was wearing an immaculate white shirt, tie, and dark Ray-Bans, his mustache neatly clipped. “My doctor said to stop smoking, but I asked him: ‘If I stop, will my cancer go?’ No, so let me smoke.”
Now, he’s spending his final days looking back at his past with some regret and self-recrimination, much of it tied to his role in the sex trade, which made him rich but at the cost of human misery.
Born in Hong Kong, raised in Chinatown
Chuwit was born on August 29, 1961, in Hong Kong to a Thai-Chinese father and a Thai mother. He grew up in Bangkok’s Chinatown.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy before earning a master’s in business administration from the University of San Diego in the United States. Later, he also received a master’s in political science from Thammasat University.
After returning from the US, he set up his first massage parlour, called Victoria Secret, in 1989. It grew into the Davis Group – a business empire with six luxury massage parlours in Bangkok. At the peak of his fortunes in the mid-1990s, Chuwit was making a million baht in cash per day from his six soapy-massage venues.