Sia Po's flood cash splash, Hem ends it all, Nicky's lament

Another day at the tables

Net idol and former celebrity boxer Apirak "Sia Po" Arnon is defending his controversial 100 million baht cash handout to flood victims in the Northeast, money he claims was raised from unnamed casinos across the border.

Apirak 'Sia Po' Arnon

After earlier sending a 1 million baht donation to the flood relief effort in Ubon Ratchathani, which he followed up with a public appeal to casinos in the region to stump up another 100 million baht, Sia Po last week posted images of him unpacking bundles of used 1,000 baht notes ready to hand out to flood victims.

He said the casinos where he is a regular customer had come through with the money, as they wanted to join the flood relief effort. He had decided to hand out 10 million baht to each of 10 flood-stricken provinces in the Northeast which he has been visiting since the middle of the month.

"I am not sure how it can be a sin when casinos overseas are legal. Even though the floods have subsided, it will help ease the suffering," he said on Sept 21 in a widely shared Facebook post, where Thais were largely supportive of his efforts.

Sia Po was recently released from jail after a case involving gambling-related charges hit a legal stumbling block. He quickly inserted himself into the flood relief effort, rubbing shoulders with high-profile rescue workers and even the prime minister as he spread his largesse earned from gambling tables. Cynics say he is trying to rehabilitate his image as prosecutors try to regain their foothold on the case.

Media reports say Sia Po was freed from Bangkok Special Prison on Sept 4, alongside fellow net idol and co-suspect Makharin Phumsaart, also known as Nay Wat Dao. The pair were charged with enticing Thais to gamble online and denied bail. However, they were later released after prosecutors, who had appealed to police for more evidence, ran out of time to press their case.

Since their release the pair have joined the flood relief effort, with Sia Po making the bigger impact thanks to his 1 million baht donation to the Ubon flood relief drive headed by actor and volunteer rescue worker Bin Bunluerit; an accidental meeting with the premier at the flood relief telethon in Bangkok, and now the 100 million baht casino cash giveaway.

Police have been remarkably quiet about Sia Po's casino cash splurge, despite his blatant connection to gambling and alleged money-laundering.

However, his cash giveaway in the Northeast still has its critics, with celebrity lawyer Ronarong Kaewpetch saying Sia Po was encouraging Thais to gamble by another name.

"Let me bring you to your senses. Po wants to promote himself so he can advertise casinos across the border. The more weight you give it, the more you are telling Thais that gambling is a good thing. It's not like Toon (rocker Artiwara Kongmalai, aka "Toon Bodyslam") running marathons to raise funds for hospitals, because he works an honest living. Po has what kind of profession when he can raise and give away such a large amount of money?" he asked.

Rescue volunteer Bin, whose own public flood relief drive for Ubon Ratchathani has raised more than 40 million baht, defended Po's giveaway. "Casinos are legal across the border, it's not stolen money, and they are giving it willingly to help flood victims," he said.

Sia Po has been quick to call on his supporters for help in combatting the critics. "Media which set out to damage my reputation give me a headache. Help me by demolishing them. People are in trouble, but these types are intent on digging things up against me," he grumbled.

Meanwhile, a 10-year old cancer sufferer's contribution to the flood relief effort in Ubon has been widely praised by Thais.

Pornprapa "Donut" Phengdee, who has battled leukaemia since she was a toddler, last week met rescue worker Bin to hand over 1,000 baht she had saved from school snack change.

Pornprapa 'Donut' Phengdee and Bin Bunluerit

Donut, who enjoys helping those in need, decided to hand over the money to flood victims and travelled to Ubon to meet Bin, who embraced her in tears. Bin gave her back 30,000 baht from his personal funds to help defray her treatment costs, much to the surprise of Nong Donut and her grandmother Trissana Phengdee, who accompanied her.

Ms Trissana, who has cared for the little girl and her elder brother since their parents broke up five years ago, said Donut later decided to hand out the 30,000 baht Bin had given her to flood victims at her school, in a further act of generosity.

Sad farewell for promising actor

Friends and family of actor Phoomphadit "Hem" Nittayaros are shocked after the young man took his own life last week.

Hem, 31, who suffered from depression but whose career appeared in good shape, hanged himself on Wednesday at the Bang Khae condo he shared with his girlfriend, Jomjutha Sila-ahs, who found his body. She said there were no immediate warning signs that he intended to take his life, though he had thought about it before, owing to depression and financial woes which left him unable to pay the rent. He left no suicide note though apparently tried to call friends before he took his life.

Phoomphadit 'Hem' Nittayaros

Amid reports he had acted as guarantor for a friend who left him with large debts, his partner in a timber import/export venture, former actor Atom Sampanthapap, said financial factors were unlikely to blame. "Hem confided in me regularly, sometimes in tears, but never mentioned that," he said.

His acting career was also in good shape, with his manager, Patcharapan "Mo" Praisantia, saying the former Kantana-contracted actor had a regular supply of work since going indie late last year. His latest soap, Fa Dong Payak, is airing on PPTV 36. He had also acted in a soap for Channel 3, yet to air, and was about to start work on another soap, Laykinree, for director Pongpat "Aof" Wachirabunjong.

Hem, a Maha Sarakham native, had two more soaps under discussion, and was also putting together plans for a movie, for which he had found an investor. His manager said she and Hem had agreed to discuss the movie on Wednesday afternoon but he put off their meeting briefly. Shortly after her assistant called to say he was dead.

However, even if not in person, Hem appears to have left telltale signs on social media that he was not well. On Instagram, his final message says "This world is full of broken things: broken hearts, broken promises, broken people". On Twitter on Sept 6, he thanked the people who had entered into his life, and said "freedom" for him was finally close at hand.

His manager Mo said: "I am stunned because he had a regular flow of work, and loved his girlfriend. He didn't talk about his debts or depression ... he might not have known he had the disorder."

Netizens have, however, unearthed a video message he once left in support of those afflicted by depression. In it, he said: "You might have many people giving you encouragement, but it's only you who can get out of that spot. So, don't give up, fight on and one day when you get over it, you will look back and think it was just a phase of your life." His funeral rites last until today.

Presenter makes amends

Actor and presenter Nachat "Nicky" Juntapun is hoping his air hostess girlfriend will give him a second chance after she declared on social media last week they had split.

Nachat 'Nicky' Juntapun

Dear Saowarop, Nicky's girlfriend of three years and his partner in a YouTube channel, declared they had parted after fans asked why they hadn't seen them together lately. Dear said she was tired of him straying and then lying about it later, adding he was a repeat offender. "I am disappointed and no longer trust him. I keep hoping he will adjust his behaviour, and start being more honest, but he keeps slipping back into old ways," she said.

She said that in the first instance, Nicky had gone to Taiwan and invited a group of "pretty" presenters to join him and friends for a drink. She found out about it later and was disappointed. He promised not see pretties again unless it was at work.

However, barely a week later, Dear said she was heading to Singapore for work and Nicky said he was going to bed. However, he quietly arranged to meet another woman friend and took her drinking. Clarifying that Nicky was not seeing anyone else on the side, merely going out too much, she added grumpily: "I don't understand women who would go out at night with men who are already seeing someone."

Admitting he had behaved poorly, Nicky said he was caught out in the first instance when he took a picture of his friend hugging a pretty. His phone was synched to Dear's computer, so she saw the image of them getting too friendly. "In the second instance I was caught out when I took a girl to a pub in Ekkamai and a junior of Dear's saw us there. She took a clip of me putting my arm around the girl or embracing her, can't remember which, and sent it to her," he said.

Nicky said he still holds out hope Dear will accept him back. "We argue every month but she usually forgives me after five or six days." Meanwhile, unkind fans have unearthed an apology he offered on social media five years ago to a previous girlfriend called Mo, in which Nicky once again admitted he had behaved poorly.