Stranger things happening in our strange land

Stranger things happening in our strange land

Strange things are happening in Thailand. Who would believe we would be experiencing a bout of cold and rain in April? But here we are, wrapping ourselves up in thick clothes at the height of summer just a week before Songkran.

But the rare summer cold snap is apparently not the only strange event in town.

On Sunday lawyer Sittra Biabungkerd posted an audio clip purportedly featuring a phone conversation between a man and a woman. The two were later identified as Seksakol Atthawong, a vice minister of the Prime Minister's Office, and Jureeporn Sinthuprai, a member of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party and former leader of the red shirts in the east.

Mr Sittra, who runs a legal aid foundation, was behind the release of the video clip showing superintendent "Joe Ferrari" and other officers at Nakhon Sawan police station torturing a drug suspect to death by placing plastic bags over his head.

The notorious video led to the arrests of Muang Nakhon Sawan Police Chief Pol Col Thitisan "Joe Ferrari" Utthanaphon and several other police accomplices.

In the latest audio clip, the man was heard telling the woman he took 15 million baht from another man and used it to finance an election campaign.

He said he had spent more than 100 million baht fighting against "the flour factory". He also said that he didn't know the man from whom he took the money had something to do with lottery quotas.

The problem is the police working on overpriced lotteries were going to arrest him, he said. If that were allowed to happen, the man could expose him for taking his money.

He then told the woman he needed more money to take care of phu yai.

Both Mr Seksakol and Mrs Jureeporn admitted that the voices on the leaked audio clip were theirs.

Mr Seksakol, who chairs the taskforce to tackle overpriced lotteries, said he would file police complaints against people who made and publicised the audio record as it was aimed at discrediting him politically.

He said the conversation was not about using lottery quotas to fund election campaigns as suspected by netizens, and the dialogue about borrowing money was just a "joke" between him and Mrs Jureeporn whom he has known for 20-plus years.

Mrs Jureeporn cited the same reason in refuting the allegation. She said she has known Mr Seksakol and helped him with election campaigns for a long time.

She also said Mr Seksakol regarded her as a sister and would often tease her about borrowing some 10 or 20 million baht from her.

As for them mentioning the lottery, she said since Mr Seksakol has a high profile from his role busting overpriced lottos, she simply wanted to tease him about it.

Nothing was as claimed, Mrs Jureeporn said. She also said that if what she discussed with Mr Seksakol was some kind of political ploy or secret, she wouldn't have put him on speakerphone which was apparently how the audio clip was recorded and released online.

The pair have a very odd sense of humour.

Then there was a scandal involving a man who allegedly embezzled over 190 million baht of funds under the care of Somdet Phra Wannarat, the late abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet.

What seems unusual about the case is Wat Bowon belongs to the strict Dhammayuttika order, which forbids its monks from "touching" money.

But according to news reports, the suspect managed to transfer huge amounts from both personal bank accounts of the late abbot and those belonging to Wat Bowon and its branch temples of which the late abbot was the only authorised signer.

Wat Bowon is a major temple, so it is astonishing its finances were controlled only by its abbot, apparently with no oversight.

And yes, the assumption that people who are closely associated with Buddhist temples have purer hearts is not always correct.

In yet another uncanny story, a couple filed a complaint with police that they were abducted from their home and had 400,000 baht plus a gold amulet worth 250,000 baht extorted from them by a group of 15 men who claimed to be policemen after they won two million baht from online gambling

Police said they would promptly hunt down and get tough on the extortionists who claimed to be police.

But guess what? Based on CCTV footage, they found that four out of the 15 suspects were officers with the cyber crime investigation bureau. Adding to the twist, one of the officers who turned himself in to acknowledge the charges of illegally detaining other people and extortion among others said he did not commit any crime but was doing his duty.

Is it a joke? A crime? A fact of life in Thailand where overpriced lottery tickets are a national agenda? Take your pick and laugh, or cry.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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