US navy veteran wrongly accused of financial crime in China

Published:  17 Jun at 6 PM
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In August last year, US navy veteran Derrick Keller was arrested just after he and his wife had arrived in Bangkok as tourists.

He was accused of running a Ponzi scheme which caused investors to lose millions of dollars, but has strenuously denied the charge. Originally from Texas, Derrick, his wife and their two children moved to China in 2015 after his wife was offered a position as lead dance instructor at the Shenzhen Dance Academy. Whilst his wife continued with her career, Derrick took a few odd jobs, coached a baseball team and worked on his childhood dream of becoming an actor.

After a while he was approached by a recruiter looking for a ‘Western Face’ for a company known as Eagle Gates Group, with the recruiter representing the firm as totally within Chinese law. Derrick saw the offer as an acting opportunity as he was required to appear in several corporate videos for which he was paid $15,000. According to long-term expats in China, it’s quite common for Chinese companies to request a Western actor to perform as a CEO on videos aimed at the Western market.

Once the videos were finished, he lost contact with the company and forgot about the job until he and his wife flew to Bangkok. On arrival and without warning, Derrick was arrested at the airport and charged, with an English language online newspaper stating ‘Thai media reported his arrest and claimed he was part of a Ponzi scheme defrauding investors out of millions of dollars’. Derrick was allowed to call his father in the UK, but his family haven’t heard a word from him since.

According to his father, the prison in which he’s being held is infamous for its violation of human rights, and he’s sleeping in a cell with 50 Thai prisoners. He’s now been visited by missionaries, who told his family he’s lost 30 pounds in weight during the last 10 months. The family have contacted senators and even Trump as well as local politicians, but haven’t had a reply from anyone. His trial is due to take place in August, and he could be sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The family have been told the court will go easier on him if he admits the crime as it’s not worth denial, a usual ploy when no evidence has been presented. According to his father, Derrick is a person of integrity who’d never admit to a crime he hadn’t committed. In order to get him properly represented in court, the family have started a petition as legal advice for foreigners in Thailand is notoriously expensive. This sad tale isn’t unusual across Asia, with expats and tourists urged to take care and trust no-one, even the authorities.
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