They did not go far enough to escape capture. In Johor Bahru yesterday, the fraudster duo was caught and brought back to our island. They are, as many are now saying, not really that smart after all
Pansuk and Pi in police custody. Collage: Just So
They were masked when they were escorted to waiting police cars, as seen in last night’s news broadcasts, but even with faces half-concealed, it was not hard to distinguish them. Siriwipa Pansuk (aka Ann) and her husband Pi Jiapeng (aka Kevin), on the run since 4 July when they fled our island, were arrested by Malaysian police at a hotel in Johor Bahru (JB), where they had chosen to tarry and, likely, blend in. According to images from CCTV footage published by the press and shared online, the couple did not resist arrest. They were, according to the hotel staff, calm. When they were caught, they were dressed simply, with none of them wearing a watch, luxury or not. There were no Dior bags that Ms Pansuk had favoured either.
Mr Pi had on a dark green, baggy T-shirt with “Paris Balenciaga” printed in white on the chest—an original would have set him back S$880, retail—and a pair of slim, black, knee-length shorts of unrecognised provenance. He was carrying a black backpack of an indeterminate make when he was at the hotel (it was later held by the police). If it were a Balenciaga too, it would have cost at least S$1,250. His wife, with hair tied into a small matronly chignon, was even more nondescript; she was togged in a crumpled, black V-neck dress that did not look especially luxurious. Both were shod in black slides. As Netizens have been saying since last night, they did not look like they had enriched themselves with ill-gotten S$32 million; they looked like petty thieves.
According to the Singapore Police Force, the arrest was made possible with help from the Malaysian authorities, based on information from the Royal Thai Police that it was likely the husband and wife were staying in a hotel right across the Causeway. Shinmin Daily News (新明日报) reported that the couple had remained in JB throughout these past 37 days, staying in different hotels—all amazingly possible without identification papers—to avoid detection. When the cash they brought along with them ran low, they switched to budget hotels, and one that set the stage for their capture is, ironically, called Bookme—a fitting end to their swindling and runaway life. This hotel can be reserved for as low as S$25 a night on booking.com. It is situated in the suburb of Bukit Indah, a residential and commercial area that is popular with those working here on our island. Bookme Hotel (formerly known as Smor Hotel) is just 1.5 kilometres away from a stretch of the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link highway. When the wanted two appeared at the hotel at around 10am last night (presumably to check in—without, again, passports?), and was apprehended, a sign on the glass door read, “Full House”.
One Malaysian working here, with his own residence in JB, told us that the couple made a poor decision to stay in Bukit Indah (meaning beautiful hill in Malay). “There are so many Singaporeans in this area, especially in the weekends” he said. “They would definitely meet someone who’d recognise them. For sure, I would not choose this place.” Bookme Hotel is, in fact, in a stretch of three-storey shop houses on a treeless road in the pusat (bellybutton) of Bukit Indah, right behind TF Value-Mart (former Giant), and within walking distance to Singaporean faves Tesco and, a little further, AEON Mall. Is it possible that, as they were used to a life of immense comfort, they needed to be in an area dense with urban conveniences? He added, “I think they cannot handle an environment with facilities wanting; they require a place that breathes with life.” Besides, we figured, if the nearby malls could not serve their still-to-change needs, the Johor Premium Outlet is really not that far away.
Bookme Hotel in Bukit Indah, Johor Bahru. Photo: agaoda.com
While initial reactions to the unbelievable escape (Mr Pi called it “our mistake” in his first comment after the arrest) were met with surprise at their daring and smarts, many are now saying that perhaps the two are not as clever or strategic as they had appeared to be. It is not clear why both, unencumbered with luxury bags, did not go away from the city centre, even leave the state of Johor entirely. Was it possible that they did not know how wanted they were? Or that an Interpol warrant was issued against them, or that Malaysian (and Thai) authorities were willing to assist in the search for this pair of absconders? It is likely that Malaysia was totally alien to the two of them, and the fear of not making it in remote places (let alone the wilderness), where Malay may be the only spoken language, kept them in the relatively mundane and relatable area of Bukit Indah.
Their choice of the hideout and the proximity to Singapore are not the only puzzlers. Just as baffling is how the Thai authorities knew the Pis were in JB when the talk for close to a month was that they were already in Thailand, completed plastic surgery, and had blended with the crowd. Thai social media is presently seeing rapid sharing of the video report of the couple’s arrest (even in Chinese, with chiding directed at Ms Pansuk) and is rife with speculation that someone she knows snitched on her. It is highly possible that she would stay in touch with individuals in her home country, even if it is surprising that she had not laid low enough. It seems that, other than her family (mother and brother are supposedly in hiding), most people are deeply angry with her. Even purported friends of Ms Pansuk’s were saying on social media, with links to the news reports here: “วันนี้ที่รอคอย (wan nee ti rao koy)”—the day I’ve been waiting for.