Thailand man charged over death of Swiss tourist near waterfall

Tourists on a beach in Phuket, Thailand
Thai authorities have just recently allowed tourists to return to the island under its “Phuket Sandbox” programme

Thai police have charged a 27-year-old man in connection with the death of a Swiss woman who was found near a waterfall in Thailand on the resort island of Phuket last week.

Local officials identified the victim as Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf, aged 57.

Police found her face down in the water covered by a black sheet, with her phone, shorts and trainers nearby.

Theerawut Tortip told reporters at a police press conference that he killed the woman and stole from her.

“I would like to apologise to the family of the tourist and plead for all Thais to forgive me,” he said.

He was detained after nearby CCTV footage showed him travelling to the waterfall around the same time Ms Sauvain-Weisskopf went there, police said.

Her death came just weeks after Thailand launched its so-called “Phuket Sandbox” scheme. She reportedly arrived in Thailand on 13 July.

Under the programme, vaccinated tourists can come to the island without the need to quarantine, but cannot travel to the mainland within 14 days.

Ms Sauvain-Weisskopf’s death has prompted local officials to step up security on the island amid concerns that it is a huge setback to the sandbox scheme.

Governor Narong Woonciew said officials will survey unsafe areas in each community and put them under surveillance.

A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign minister Don Pramudwinai said on Twitter he had sent his condolences to the Swiss ambassador for the “murder of a Swiss woman in Phuket”.

And government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had ordered police “to expedite the investigation to identify and arrest the culprit”.

He also ordered officials to increase security in Phuket.

Switzerland’s foreign ministry meanwhile released a statement on Thursday saying Thai authorities had contacted them about the death of an “apparent Swiss citizen” but gave no more details, citing privacy concerns.

Local reports have said she was a Swiss diplomat, although officials have not yet commented on her job.

Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about one-fifth of the Thai economy.

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