RTP's missing tycoon fiasco

RTP's missing tycoon fiasco

The disappearance of a tycoon at the centre of an oil smuggling and money laundering racket in the South just hours after his arrest early this month dealt a heavy blow to the Royal Thai Police (RTP). His high-profile escape drew public attention and tarnished the battered reputation of the justice system.

As of now, the whereabouts of Sahachai Jiansermsin, aka "Joe Pattani", who was nabbed on Nov 4 in the Huai Khwang area of Bangkok in accordance with an arrest warrant approved in February by the Songkhla Provincial Court, remains unknown. It's believed he left the country after being released without charge.

The Nov 4 arrest was initially based on a money laundering charge related to a 2012 oil smuggling case in which police seized more than 2,000 litres of oil and 48 million baht of cash in Songkhla. A police investigation showed his firm also sold more than 400 million litres of oil. He was initially charged with oil smuggling and money laundering. However, prosecutors early this month did not indict him.

But the tycoon has more to face than than oil smuggling charges; he is also linked with other illicit trades including timber smuggling. He is still wanted in a state document forgery case from 2014 where the Pattani court handed him one year and nine months in jail.

Surprisingly, the matter had become a cold case. Police recently admitted the Pattani court warrant had never been recorded in the system, which technically prompted Sahachai's release from the arms of the law. The RTP has ordered a probe into police processes in Pattani while the officer who "forgot" to file the warrant in the system has been transferred pending investigation results.

The tycoon's record is sinister. The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) in the South found the tycoon had paid leading figures in the southern insurgency. Police found a fake official seal made after the one used by the Pattani immigration police. For this count, the Pattani court handed him a jail term of one year and seven months as he ran away in 2014.

Yet it's hard to believe his presumed escape was just an innocent mistake by the police. Sahachai is an influential tycoon. A police investigation of his phone records shows he was in contact with high-ranking officers and some politicians.

The Department of Special Investigation, in collaboration with the Revenue Department and Isoc, had discovered a list of state officials in several agencies, including officers in the 9th police region, who received kickbacks from him. The payments were said to have been made to bank accounts held by the wives of those officials.

This may explain why he managed to escape punishment time and again.

Such a blatant case reminds one of the mishandling of the infamous hit-and-run saga involving the Red Bull scion Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya by police and public prosecutors.

After Mr Vorayuth vanished, with several charges exceeding the statute of limitations, those who had a role in an attempted whitewashing process have not been held to account. Numerous investigation panels have been formed in what appears to be a shameful time-buying tactic. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha set up a probe committee that appears, at this stage, to be a waste of time as no progress has been made.

The Joe Pattani saga is more proof that the RTP has hit a new low. Until it addresses the problem, the agency cannot restore public trust and this will damage the institution as well as the justice process.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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