Somyot loans expose patronage roots

Somyot loans expose patronage roots

Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang 'borrowed' some 300 million baht from a fugitive charged with human trafficking and forcing under-aged girls into prostitution. (File photo)
Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang 'borrowed' some 300 million baht from a fugitive charged with human trafficking and forcing under-aged girls into prostitution. (File photo)

The admission of former national police chief Somyot Poompunmuang that he borrowed 300 million baht from a fugitive massage parlour tycoon reminds us how deeply the patronage system is entrenched in Thai society.

Pol Gen Somyot seemed unperturbed while telling his story. But for the public, it is in fact alarming to hear that he borrowed such a huge amount of money from the owner of the Victoria's Secret Massage parlour while he was serving as national police chief in 2014 and 2015.

His admission came after the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) revealed its investigation found that the money trail of the outlet's alleged owner, Kampol Wirathepsuporn, led to the former police chief.

Soonruth Bunyamanee is deputy editor, Bangkok Post.

Mr Kampol faces several charges including human trafficking and forcing women under the age of 18 into prostitution following the crackdown on the massage parlour in mid-January. He is still at large. Pol Gen Somyot, who is currently the president of the Football Association of Thailand, admitted the police chief mentioned in the DSI report is him. He clarified that he and Mr Kampol had been friends for more than 20 years and share the same hobby -- collecting Buddhist amulets.

In fact, it's not wrong for Pol Gen Somyot to have the owner of a massage parlour as a friend. He also included these loans in the assets declaration list he submitted to the National Anti-Corruption Commission during his time in office. That makes his case different from that of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon's luxury watches. Gen Prawit failed to declare the watches in his assets declarations, though he maintains he borrowed them from friends.

The loans affair is more a matter of ethical standards because Pol Gen Somyot borrowed huge amounts of money from the alleged brothel operator while he was serving as the police chief. Pol Gen Somyot said that on several occasions when he ran into financial trouble, the massage parlour owner loaned him money.

Pol Gen Somyot was appointed a member of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Sept 15, 2014 and police chief two days after that. Over a month later, on Oct 28, he borrowed money from Mr Kampol for the first time, followed by another three loans in 2015.

Pol Gen Somyot insisted it was like a friend borrowing from a friend. However, I don't think it should be considered normal practice for law enforcement officers, particularly for one in the top position.

Supposing Pol Gen Somyot was still police chief, I wonder how he would react to the raid on the Victoria's Secret Massage parlour by the DSI and local authorities, and how he would handle his "friendship" with Mr Kampol who is also his benefactor. He said he knew Mr Kampol operated several massage parlours but he was not aware the sources of the money might come from illegal activities. Nor did he know that Mr Kampol was allegedly engaged in human trafficking. But shouldn't a proper distance be maintained between a massage parlour owner and the national police chief?

Even though running massage parlours is technically legal in Thailand, every one knows this business is in a grey area since many establishments are known to offer sexual services to customers. Didn't Pol Gen Somyot know this?

In his interview with Spring News channel on Tuesday, Pol Gen Somyot also shocked viewers when asked why he borrowed so much money from Mr Kampol. His answer was the police service was more like his sideline career. In fact, he ran businesses including stock trading. The money he borrowed was used for business purposes. Fortunately, he served as national police chief just for one year. In the two latest crackdowns on two massage parlours -- Nataree, in June last year, and Victoria's Secret Massage this year -- details of several police officers who received benefits from the alleged brothels, ranging from monthly payments to free-of-charge services, were exposed.

The story of the friendship between Pol Gen Somyot and Mr Kampol reflects how strong the connections between business operators and law enforcement authorities can be. In fact, his case is an example of the patronage system entrenched in this country. This is just the latest example to come to light. How many other similar cases have not been uncovered? How many law enforcement authorities have maintained close relationships with businesses which are the subjects of their law enforcement efforts? These officers could offer privileges to certain groups, foster the patronage system and operate largely unchecked.

In my view, the patronage system and nepotism that remain in every corner of society are actually worse than corruption. For corruption, you can take action against it and punish wrongdoers. But for patronage and nepotism, we can do little but watch it on action as it damages our country.

Soonruth Bunyamanee

Bangkok Post Editor

Bangkok Post Editor

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