Just one day after Pol Maj Suriya Singhakamol, chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), told the media he was not facing pressure as he investigated a high-profile case involving pork smuggling networks, the cabinet transferred him from the DSI.
The cabinet on Tuesday gave the nod to a proposal from the Ministry of Justice to transfer Pol Maj Suriya to become the ministry's deputy permanent secretary, a relatively quiet post. The transfer has raised many eyebrows, to say the least.
His transfer comes as the DSI had been making progress in bringing a large-scale network of contraband pork smuggling to justice.
Pol Maj Suriya, in particular, garnered praise from the National Association of Swine Farmers and outspoken conservation group BIOTHAI for his perceived fearless work.
On Monday, Pol Maj Suriya, with a court warrant in hand, went to giant wholesaler Makro to inspect evidence. The inspection came after the DSI found Wealthy & Healthy Foods Co Ltd and The Good Shop Co were Makro suppliers.
Both importers were found to have had a role in importing 161 shipping containers loaded with pork and offal illegally sent from the Americas and Europe. These containers have been left stranded at Laem Chabang Port since April.
The DSI's expanded probe revealed that smugglers -- including both importers -- have brought in 2,385 containers of illegal pork, worth about 3 billion baht, since 2020.
In response, Makro -- insisting all pork products had all got official approval from the Department of Livestock -- announced it had terminated its contract with both suppliers in 2020 after finding their imported products were sub-standard.
But the shunting of the DSI chief comes at an ill-timed moment for other reasons, as there was much work for him to continue. He has already submitted the names of 10 officials at the Ministry of Agriculture accused of smuggling to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), and he had planned to ask the Anti-Money-Laundering Office to confiscate the assets of suspects. The public now deserves a proper explanation of why the DSI chief, actively inspecting illegal products, is being transferred.
Comments on the matter by Justice Minister Pol Col Tawee Sodsong yesterday evening that he needs Pol Maj Suriyas to do other important tasks have failed to boost trust.
Without a clear explanation, the rumour that Pol Maj Suriya was transferred after upsetting powerful people behind the smuggling will only gain ground, and officials who investigate illegal activities in the future will fear the government might not give them full backing.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives also needs to be more active in such cases, and as far as the public can see, its minister, Capt Thamanat Prompow, has done little to address this issue.
Meanwhile, other areas of government -- especially the Ministry of Public Health -- have done nothing to ensure food safety in the market, with no agencies conducting inspections to check on the source of pork products.
Consumers can only question the source of the pork they eat, while pig farmers -- the group hardest hit -- will wonder whether the new DSI chief can carry on with what had appeared to be impressive investigation work.