Convicted murderer and former fugitive Somchai Khunploem was taken to a VIP room in Chon Buri Hospital yesterday only minutes after being transferred to Chon Buri prison from Bangkok.
The former "Godfather of Chon Buri" was moved from the Corrections Department hospital in Bangkok to Chon Buri prison yesterday morning, reports said.
His son, Culture Minister Sonthaya Khunploem, made the transfer request to the director-general of the department, who approved it.
Somchai was taken from the VIP room to the intensive care unit last evening after doctors found he had difficulty breathing.
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Somchai, better known as Kamnan Poh, has begun his 30-year jail sentence after being caught last Wednesday, having been on the run since 2006.
Somchai was taken to the hospital 10 minutes after arriving at the prison, Amnart Prachyaphan, director of Chon Buri Central Prison said.
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The convict was admitted to a VIP room on the 8th floor of the hospital.
Mr Amnart said Somchai, 75, needed medical care almost as soon as he arrived at the jail.
He was exhausted and suddenly passed out.
The prison's doctors found he had difficulty breathing and was suffering from high blood pressure. The prison decided to refer him to the hospital for urgent treatment, as the prison had a duty to save Somchai's life.
Mr Amnart said it is up to doctors to decide when Somchai will be transferred from the hospital back to the prison.
He dismissed concerns that Somchai would be treated too leniently at the provincial prison, even though the former mayor of Saen Suk is known to be an influential figure in Chon Buri.
A group of locals and close associates who had heard about his pending transfer gathered in front of the prison yesterday in the hope of catching a glimpse of Somchai, but they left disappointed.
The convict was taken straight inside the prison in a guarded van upon arrival from Bangkok. He was moved to the hospital soon after. At 12.45pm, another two sons of Kamnan Poh _ Witthaya Khunploem, president of the Chon Buri provincial administration organisation (PAO), and Narongchai Khunploem, current mayor of Saen Suk _ arrived at the hospital to visit Somchai. The prisoner also has another son, Ittipol Khunploem, who is the mayor of Pattaya.
Deputy Corrections Department chief Kobkiat Kasiwiwat said Somchai is eligible to apply for a royal pardon. However, he can only apply for a reduction of his jail term in the corruption case he has been convicted in.
Somchai was sentenced to 25 years for masterminding the murder of Prayoon Sitthichoke at a wedding reception in March 2003. He must also serve five years and four months for corruption involving the 1992 sale of a site in a forest reserve for use as a garbage dump.
Criminal Court president Thawee Prachuablarb said yesterday the Corrections Department had the authority to approve the transfer of a prisoner.
He had earlier said prisoners serving more than 20 years would usually not be eligible for a transfer and would be jailed in Bangkwang Central Prison, which has the highest security.
Corrections Department chief Suchart Wong-anantachai said he had approved the transfer of Somchai because the Chon Buri institution is a high security prison which is capable of holding inmates serving sentences as long as 30 years.
Somchai was convicted in March last year in absentia by the Supreme Court for masterminding his rival Prayoon's murder. 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 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.
Pol Maj Gen Supisarn Phakdinaruenart, chief of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), said investigators are looking into people suspected of aiding Somchai in evading arrest. Suspects include Somchai's relatives and state officials.
Somchai was spotted living a normal life in a house in Chon Buri and travelled around to other parts of the country.
Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said a team of investigators had made significant progress in gathering evidence that may implicate some police in Chon Buri of being involved in helping Somchai avoid arrest. Some police in the province will be called in for questioning, Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said.
Police are also asking Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital for information about Somchai's treatment. Somchai was arrested while returning home from the hospital.
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- Writer: Post Reporters