After almost seven years on the run, Somchai Khunploem, better known as Kamnan Poh, is now behind bars.
Fugitive Somchai Khunploem, alias Kamnan Poh, is taken to the Crime Suppression Division following his arrest at the Lat Krabang toll gate. In March last year the Supreme Court upheld a 25-year jail term against Somchai for masterminding the murder of a local leader in March 2003. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD
The arrest of the former mayor of Saen Suk municipality at Lat Krabang motorway's toll gate was the culmination of a top-secret police operation spanning more than two months.
Somchai, once dubbed the "Godfather of Chon Buri," was convicted in March last year in absentia by the Supreme Court for masterminding the murder of political rival Prayoon Sitthichoke at a wedding reception in March 2003. He was handed a sentence of 25 years in prison.
He was found guilty of plotting the murder in June 2004 by the Criminal Court. The ruling was upheld by the Appeal Court in October 2006.
Somchai went on the run in early 2006, shortly before he was sentenced in absentia by the Supreme Court to five years and four months in prison for corruption involving the 1992 sale of a site in a forest reserve in tambon Khao Mai Kaew for use as a garbage dump.
The combined jail sentence for his two cases is 30 years and four months.
He was long believed to have taken shelter in Cambodia, but then rumours surfaced that he had returned to Chon Buri. Somchai was spotted from time to time in the province.
Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) commissioner Lt Gen Pongpat Chaiyaphan ordered a secret operation to capture Somchai after receiving tip-offs about his movements in Chon Buri.
Pol Lt Gen Pongpat assigned Pol Col Arthip Taennil, of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), to form a team which in late December was able to verify that Somchai was holed up in his house.
The arrest became imminent when Pol Col Arthip's unit confirmed Somchai would visit a city hospital yesterday.
The police followed his black Lexus sedan from his home in Chon Buri to Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital in Bangkok. Somchai left the hospital in the same vehicle about 10am, heading back to Chon Buri.
A 10-man police team lay in wait for him at Lat Krabang toll gate.
When the Lexus pulled up at the toll gate, the police made their move.
Somchai was in the back seat and there were two other people in the vehicle. One was identified as Winai Ponpaipal, 50, chief of tambon Samet, and the other was a female doctor.
A police officer jumped in the car and drove off to the CSD. Somchai did not resist.
Pol Lt Gen Pongpat then alerted the media about an impending press conference on the arrest of a high-profile figure, but kept his identity secret.
Somchai was questioned for two-and-a-half hours by Pol Lt Gen Pongpat and CSD commander Pol Maj Gen Supisal Pakdinaruenart.
Six rounds of bullets and a large amount of medicine prescribed to a Mr Kim sae Tang, believed to be an alias of Somchai, were found in a search of the vehicle, police said.
Pol Col Arthip said that with Kamnan Poh now behind bars, he was not worried that some politicians might try to exert influence to have him freed. Kamnan Poh was an influential figure in the eastern region and his son is the culture minister.
"There is no pressure. We are doing our job in line with the law," he said.
Somchai was taken to the Criminal Court after questioning and handed over to the Corrections Department. Mr Winai was charged with possession of ammunition after admitting the bullets belonged to him, police said. He had taken Somchai to the hospital as the fugitive had health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure. Somchai was sent to Bangkok Remand Prison, where he received a 30-minute health check-up.
Wasant Singkhaselit, commander of Bang Kwang central prison, was there to observe proceedings. Somchai might be sent to the Bang Kwang facility. Bangkok Remand Prison is used to detain inmates serving no more than 15 years.
Culture Minister Sonthaya Khunploem, Somchai's son, arrived at the prison but did not get out of the car. Somchai's relatives informed the prison officials about his health conditions.
Mr Sonthaya said after the arrest that he could not do anything about his father's predicament and would allow the law to take its course.
He pledged not to use his position to interfere in the work of authorities and had not talked about the matter with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra or Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who supervises the police force. He dismissed speculation the arrest was the result of conniving by the government's opponents and said it would not affect his cabinet position.
Mr Chalerm denied the arrest was politically motivated and said the issue would not endanger Mr Sonthaya's post.
"They are different matters. I don't want it to be politicised," he said.
Meanwhile, Samitivej Hospital said that neither Somchai Khunploem or Kim sae Tang were registered as patients at the hospital. It also said it was unlikely the former mayor would register under a false alias, as registration requires showing identification.
The arrest also sparked a debate about the fate of two other fugitives _ Vatana Asvahame and Thaksin Shinawatra.
Vatana was spotted in China last year at Hame Assavaram, a Buddhist temple located in Luoyang in the central Chinese province of Henan. The former deputy interior minister and ex-chief adviser to the Puea Pandin Party was sentenced in 2008 to 10 years in jail.
He was charged with bribing officials to carry out a land grab in the Klong Dan wastewater treatment project in Samut Prakan. He fled four years ago before the verdict was read out.
Thaksin fled a jail sentence in 2008 to take shelter in Dubai.
About the author
Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham & Mongkol Bangprapa