Nicole Sauvin-Weisskopf, 57, arrived on the island on July 13, and her body was found on August 5 by a local resident.
At a press conference on Sunday, police said a Phuket man, Theerawat Thortip, had admitted to robbing and killing Sauvin-Weisskopf.
Thortip was introduced at the conference and told journalists: “I regret all the things I have done. I confessed to the police. I also want to apologize to Thai people and to the family of the deceased.”
Police said the man, who phoned into the press briefing, was in a room with his lawyer and his wife while he spoke to media. CNN has been unable to reach Thortip’s lawyer, but his wife of 12 years confirmed to CNN that he had confessed to the killing.
Forensic experts are still investigating the cause of Sauvin-Weisskopf’s death. She was found dead near Ton Ao Yon Waterfall, a secluded destination on Phuket that occasionally attracts tourists.
Police allege Thortip took 300 Thai baht ($9) from the victim and say it was partly used to buy illegal drugs. “I lost my job because of Covid-19 and still have no job. My income is so small,” Thortip said at the briefing. Thortip and his wife have one child, aged 11.
The program lets people travel freely on the island, but to qualify they must spend at least two weeks on Phuket. The island’s economy is driven by tourism, which slowed almost to a halt during the pandemic.
The Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha released a statement on Friday expressing condolences to the Swiss government and the family of Sauvin-Weisskopf, adding that the local forces investigating the death had been ordered to report back to the Prime Minister’s office to update him on their probe.