22 July 2024

Owner of the Daruma sushi restaurant chain in Thailand, Metha Chalingsuk, was apprehended at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport this morning (Wednesday) as he returned from a foreign trip.

Commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej personally questioned the suspect at the airport, before taking him to the CIB head office.

At a press conference held this afternoon, the police said they do not intend to release Metha on police bail and will oppose any application made to the court for his release when he is transferred there tomorrow. About 100,000 baht in Metha’s bank accounts has been frozen, and US$20,000 in cash found on his person has been seized.

According to Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop, Metha fled the country to evade creditors, to whom he allegedly owes as much as 100 million baht. He decided to return due to the pressure resulting from intensifying media scrutiny. The voucher scheme, he claimed, was a way to sustain cashflow in his business which was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Metha is facing consumer fraud, money laundering and computer crime charges after police received hundreds of complaints from consumers, franchisees, suppliers and brokers who had either bought pre-paid buffet vouchers or were in the business of supplying the chain.

Metha flew to the United States last week, with transits in Dubai on the way out and Taiwan on the way back, without notifying his employees, suppliers or customers in advance and with all 27 sushi outlets in Bangkok closed, including his pilot branch in Soi Udomsuk on Sukhumvit Road in Phra Khanong district. Many voucher holders were frustrated at finding them closed.

One franchisee said she paid 2.5 million baht to buy a franchise to open her restaurant selling the Daruma buffet. She added that the company sent her the supplies late before disappearing.

Daruma Sushi was established on January 12th, 2016 with five million baht registered capital. The company expanded into 27 outlets, most all of which are operated as franchisees.

According to the Department of Business Development, the company made one million baht profit from 39 million in revenue in 2019, 1.78 million from 43.76 million revenue in 2020 and 1.26 million baht profit from 45.62 million baht revenue in 2021.

Of late, the company had been running a promotional campaign offering buffet vouchers at 199 baht each, excluding VAT, on the condition that at least 5 vouchers were purchased. The price was said to be unrealistically low.