Akeyuth cops stand by robbery motive

Investigators probe driver's past to dispel murder-for-hire theory

Police spent less than a week unravelling the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of anti-Thaksin campaigner and businessman Akeyuth Anchanbutr.

Four suspects linked to the murder of a business tycoon Akeyuth Anchanbutr. From left: Santiphap Penduang, Sutthipong Pimpisarn, Chaowalit Woonchum and Thiwakorn Kuathong.

All suspects in his murder have been rounded up.

However, the speedy handling of the case has raised questions over other possible motives for the killing beyond the 5 million baht robbery.

Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) deputy chief Thitirat Nonghanpitak, who led the probe on the case, has downplayed rumours, insisting the case is in fact nothing more than a robbery-murder.

"It is not surprising the public is doubtful about the case because the investigation team and I had not believed the case would turn out this way," Pol Maj Gen Thitirat said. "Everyone thought the case would have been more complex."

Pol Maj Gen Thitirat conceded the murder was meticulously planned.

The case emerged after relatives of Akeyuth filed police complaints over the businessman's disappearance on June 8, prompting the MPB and Crime Suppression Division to launch a probe.

Napanwut: Ex-suspect in Somchai case

Pol Maj Gen Thitirat formed an MPB investigation team, which included Pol Col Napanwut Liumsanguan, commander of the Children and Women Protection Sub-Division, Pol Col Noppasil Poonsawat of the Investigation Division, and Pol Col Chootrakul Yotmadee of the Information Analysis and Special Tools division.

The first focus was to trace the whereabouts of Akeyuth's van as his driver Santiphap Pengduang, 23, also vanished after the businessman was reported missing. Police raided Mr Santiphap's house in Phatthalung but the suspect was not there.

A police surveillance camera on Phetkasem Road, however, captured the van travelling on the southbound lane of the road about 10am on June 8.

Officers were told to take positions along the road to be on the lookout for the vehicle.

Mr Santiphap was arrested last Monday at a petrol station in Samut Sakhon's Muang district.

The suspect appeared unnerved when taken to the MPB office for questioning the following day, police said.

Mr Santiphap initially insisted he dropped Akeyuth in Prachuap Khiri Khan's Pran Buri district as his boss wanted to travel to Myanmar.

His account did not convince police or Akeyuth's relatives. Police interrogated him further.

Meanwhile, investigators obtained information from Provincial Police Region 9 that the son of a local policeman told them his friend helped Mr Santiphap bury a dead body.

The information led to the capture of Chaowalit Wunchum, 23 _ a friend of Mr Santiphap.

Pol Maj Gen Thitirat said Mr Chaowalit's account was useful.

Mr Chaowalit allegedly said he was contacted by Mr Santiphap to help bury the body of a man hit by his car in exchange for 35,000 baht.

Mr Chaowalit agreed to the deal and asked his friend, Thiwakorn Kua-thong, 18, to help hide the body. Mr Thiwakorn was captured shortly afterwards.

Mr Chaowalit then led police to pinpoint the burial spot near Jingjo mountain in Phatthalung's Muang district.

When police took Mr Chaowalit to confront Mr Santiphap, the driver appeared cornered and started talking to investigators.

Mr Santiphap implicated his friend, Sutthipong Pimpisarn, 27, for helping him abduct and murder Akeyuth.

Pol Maj Gen Thitirat said investigators are now examining Mr Santiphap's background to learn how he was recruited as Akeyuth's driver to dispel the theory that he was hired for the murder.

"As the investigation has progressed, there is no other motive aside from the robbery-murder," he said.

Meanwhile, the investigators' credibility remains in question among critics.

Pol Col Napanwut was a suspect in the disappearance of Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit nine years ago. Pol Col Napanwut and Pol Maj Gen Thitirat are believed to have close ties with former deputy national police chief Panuphong Singhara na Ayutthaya, now an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

Other members are attached to MPB chief Kamronwit Toopkrachang, who has a firm relationship with Mr Chalerm.

Pol Maj Gen Thitirat said some people commenting on the case lack sufficient information to make proper judgements.

"People in society today commonly rely on their feelings to make judgements on issues," he said.

Contact Crime Track: crimetrack@bangkokpost.co.th

About the author

Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham
Position: Reporter