The Royal Thai Police (RTP) are trying to convince the public that a police inspector's right-hand man, allegedly involved in online gambling and money laundering, simply committed suicide. It is no surprise that only a few people, if any, believe this.
The death occurred on Sunday, after Pakphum Saengnil, 36, was arrested earlier by Sa Kaeo provincial police and subsequently placed in a cell alone at Klong Luek police station at about 8pm. Police were to send him to Bangkok on Monday morning, where he would officially be charged with narcotics and sexual assault offences. However, CCTV footage reportedly showed the man hanging himself with a blanket provided to him by a visiting relative at about 10–11pm. It is baffling how the police failed to notice what was happening.
Pakphum was no usual criminal suspect. He was a sidekick to Pol Lt Col Wasawat Makurasakul, also known as "Inspector Sua", who allegedly owned 27 gambling websites and was wanted under an arrest warrant requested by the Department of Special Investigation.
If still alive, Pakphum would have enabled the DSI and police to go after suspected accomplices, including officials who received kickbacks from his boss. Needless to say, his death will make the bigwigs who allegedly receive kickback money from Inspector Sua rest easier.
It is not the first time that a suspect in a major case has died while in state custody. In 2016, a former land official committed suicide in a DSI detention room in a case that shocked the country.
Thawatchai Anukul, a former official attached to the Phuket and Phangnga land offices, had become a key land fraud suspect, accused of dereliction of duty for illegally issuing land deeds in Phuket and Phangnga, including at Layan beach in Phuket's Thalang district, and prime coastal land in Sirinat National Park.
Thawatchai reportedly committed suicide while sitting in a DSI detention room. The names of accomplices and developers who bribed officials to receive land ownership died with him. Upon further inspection, officers found he strangled himself using socks attached to a door hinge. Lest people forget, the DSI revealed that the detention room did not have CCTV.
Many people -- especially his younger brother Chainarong -- are not convinced that Thawatchai took his own life and asked for an investigation into the matter. Their doubts are valid. The Institute of Forensic Medicine reported in its initial autopsy that Thawatchai died of abdominal haemorrhaging and a ruptured liver from being hit with a solid, blunt object, together with asphyxiation from hanging. The report countered the DSI's claim that he committed suicide.
It is undeniable that state custody facilities -- especially police station cells -- are not safe spaces. They provide an open door for extrajudicial killings.
The RTP must launch an investigation, and officials responsible at Klong Luek police station must be held accountable. But that is far from enough.
The authorities, especially the RTP, must beef up security and surveillance at state custody spaces. If need be, law enforcement officers must accompany and monitor key criminal suspects, just like in the old days.
Never forget that when a suspect dies in state custody, justice is being ridiculed.