Chiang Mai private eye

A peek into the world of a Chiang Mai private investigator. James Austin Farrell interviews 'Dennis' about his work.

By | Thu 29 Jul 2010

cm private eye1 Impeccably turned out in a tight-fitting charcoal suit, reminiscent of the cockney gangsters of the seventies prone to dandyism, and replete with prepossessing scar down left cheek befitting a James Bond villain, Chiang Mai’s most renowned – if not underground – bodyguard, private investigator and general ‘security’ enforcer couldn’t have looked more the part if he had been cast for the interview. As a former English paratrooper and sniper in Afghanistan, come boxer, come bodyguard, come PI, this muscular man with bright green eyes, who would like to be known – for security reasons – as ‘Dennis’, you might say has made human vice a lifetime’s work, especially the violence part. Although, he explains, in a congenial and articulate manner somewhat conflicting with his curriculum vitae, in his line of (present) business things rarely get to the point of bloodshed.

“Finding the truth can be easy,” Dennis says of PI work concerned with amateur cons, “cheating wives, for example, are not particularly good liars; they often drop themselves in it.” A large proportion of Dennis’s company’s (Chiang Mai Private Investigations) time is spent snooping on the wives of – mostly foreign – men who are having a hard time believing in their spouse’s-conjugal sincerity. One service Dennis offers that is presently popular with many of our local fellas (few women seek this service and 90% of clients are western) is the ‘Fidelity Check’ whereby the man’s partner becomes the mark in an elaborate entrapment set-up. Dennis explains: “We employ someone on the client’s behalf, and the client can ask for a scenario where his partner is propositioned in some way by this other person.” If she takes the bait, in whatever form the client has suggested, he proves his worst fears right. Because of the implication that the client might be tempting fate or “opening Pandora’s Box”, Dennis does admit that the service is not always recommended, “but if they’re hell bent on it,” he says, “then we’ll do it.” Once in a while, he maintains, the woman is innocent of any infidelity, “and this gives him peace of mind, and so sometimes it pays dividends to check,” further adding that often the man will ask for her hand in marriage once she’s passed the test.

Dennis explains that more than a few of his clients may have rushed foolishly into their relationships, and to what turned out to be their shackles. The 10 year veteran of Chiang Mai, who speaks, reads and writes Thai, understands only too well the error in many of his clients’ ways. “I’ve seen it so many times,” he says, “people losing everything.” He’s been privy to many a man’s humbling fall, both as live spectator, and on the silver screen when viewing the hard copy evidence that he hands over to his clients so that they can “absorb” the facts. “We give them the hard copy, the literature and summary of findings, and sometimes a background on the other people involved.” The last thing he does, he says, is give advice to the client. “I’ve seen guys in tears, and it’s hard, but it never pays to get involved. We just supply the evidence. We must be sensible and keep the relationship professional,” so professional in fact that he says his team never discusses a case they work on to anyone, not to each other, not even to close friends or family.

It’s not only sketchy spouses that find themselves at the mercy of private investigation, Dennis is often hired to do background checks on business partners, to check on properties, land, vehicles, he’s even occasionally hired for counter surveillance, which means spying on someone because they think they are being spied on. “There’s no job too small,” he says, explaining that people have come to him with all kinds of problems, some that take a lot of time, technology and resources, but other cases can be solved very quickly, often due to the fact he has a “good working relationship with high ranking Thai police officials.”

Foreigners, it seems, and not without good reason, are generally concerned with matters of love, their money and perhaps more exigent matters of their mortality. Though many Thais on the other hand, hire Dennis for very different reasons, mainly that old Asian chestnut: FACE. “The bodyguard side of the business is popular with the Thais,” he explains, adding that five stocky foreign men in smart suits and dark shades donning headsets is a pretty elevating entourage for a Thai geezer. “It looks good for the status conscious,” says Dennis, “we have quite a large Asian clientele.”

All the bodyguards at CMPI are Dennis’s friends from the military or from his martial arts background. “It’s not glamorous,” he admits, and says that there’s very little chance of something actually happening relating to the dangerous side of the job. They are often hired for aesthetic or egotistic reasons, and at other times when a lot of cash will be moving around, mostly as a preemptive measure, not because of a presupposed threat. “I have been shot at,” he explains, “but we know how to take evasive action, we all have this kind of background training; in Afghanistan I got shot at every day.” He says he’s actually sometimes “numb” to the danger and even though he loves it when things go right, he still occasionally thrives off some of the more dangerous elements of his work.

“People can be killed for as little as 10,000 baht here in Thailand,” he says, so it’s no surprise that his job, that often scuppers a wicked woman’s plans of acquiring her – and often her other (Thai) husband’s – cash cow, or dispossesses a venal business partner of a tidy kick-back, puts him and his team in constant danger from perpetrators they’ve exposed seeking revenge. “The women’s prisons are full of prisoners who’ve murdered their husbands for money,” he says, “this is a dangerous place,” so much so that clients are in most cases never met face to face while often packages are dropped off at designated pick up points. Confidentiality, on both the clients’ part and his team’s part, is of the utmost importance.

There are some cases Dennis just doesn’t go near, an example is a recent case where a foreign man wanted to hire the company to spy on a Thai wife whose ex was a policeman. “I wouldn’t take a case like this,” says Dennis, “it would do more hard than good, and you have to show a bit of professional courtesy towards the police.” In another touchy case where he did take the job Dennis was hired by a prominent, and usually successful, female Thai lawyer who was working on behalf of a foreign man who had some unfortunate dealings with the Russian mafia in Pattaya. “We were hired just so our presence was known, so they knew she wasn’t so vulnerable,” though Dennis recounts that the woman did in the end have to move out of Pattaya. “These are just intimidation tactics,” he says of the lawyer’s experience with the mafia, “if someone wants someone taken out, then in my experience they just do it.”

As to the cost of hiring a bodyguard, either for face or for real, or getting a PI to spy on your ti rak, the price all depends on your expectations, the technology needed for the job, and how much time is spent to secure the results. If the job takes just one man and an afternoon – as some jobs do – the price is more than affordable, easily cheap enough for middle wage earners to entrap their loved ones. Business is good these days, says Dennis, especially with the PI side of the job. It seems he hasn’t been too badly affected by that economic troll upsetting many businesses in the town; Chiang Mai, or Thailand in general, it seems is not a bad place to set up shop as a PI. His only worry, he says is “getting a call to my own company asking to put my girlfriend under surveillance.”

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