'Big Joke' awaits another miracle
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'Big Joke' awaits another miracle

Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn — known as Big Joke — at a press conference on March 20. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
Deputy national police chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn — known as Big Joke — at a press conference on March 20. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn, widely known as Big Joke, is among a handful of officers whose meteoric rise in the force should lead them to being tapped as the next police commissioner-general. Pol Gen Surachate became a police general at about 40 years old but his career journey could be abruptly cut short.

After the coup that toppled the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Pol Gen Surachate's career steadily advanced as a police commander assigned to coordinate with the PM's Office. By accident, he came in close contact with Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, a key junta member, and developed a patron-client relationship.

It was during this period that he enjoyed his career rise. He served as commander of the tourist police, the 191 special police force and was deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau. At 48, he was appointed commissioner of the Immigration Bureau, making him one of the youngest officers to have reached such a high position.

However, in 2019, his career was abruptly turned upside down when he was transferred to the PM's Office as a civil servant by then-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for allegedly being involved in corruption.

For two years, the name "Big Joke" vanished from mainstream media and social media sites. He disappeared from the public's mind until 2021, when again, Lady Luck came to his rescue.

Big Joke was reinstated to the police force to assume a "Sor Bor 9" post, which is equivalent to the rank of an assistant national police chief. It was reported that this special post was created to accommodate his triumphant return to his old turf.

From then, it seemed his name was on an unstoppable rise. The "Big Joke" moniker became a household name. The police general appeared in the media on a daily basis in high profile cases. Be they a raid on a call centre or an online gambling network, you name it, Big Joke was involved in the operations.

Take, for example, a few high-profile cases. The murder of a highway police officer at the house of Kamnan Nok, to which several police were invited for regular drinking parties. Another case involved a young mother who dumped her eight-month-old boy into a canal in Nakhon Pathom.

The constant media spotlight portrayed him as a non-stop, workaholic cop, as if his peers in the Royal Thai Police were redundant. Nevertheless, his one-man show paid off and within one year of his return to the force, he was promoted as the deputy police chief and became the No 2 candidate for the top police post in the country.

The other candidate was Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol but he was considered as less senior than Big Joke. Seniority is one of the criteria in promotions, according to the textbook, which does not mention the patronage system and money needed to oil the promotion process.

A few days before the Police Service Commission met in September to consider the selection of the new police chief, a fully-armed police commando unit and police from the Technology Crime Suppression Division were sent to Big Joke's house as if to catch a dangerous criminal suspect.

Instead, the oversized police presence was there to demand a search of the house to look for evidence concerning the Minnie online gambling ring, in which Big Joke and eight of his men were implicated.

From then on, it was downhill for Big Joke. He missed the police top post, which was awarded to Pol Gen Torsak.

But in the end, the fallout from the recent BNK Master case -- an online gambling network in which both Pol Gen Torsak and Big Joke are entangled -- resulted in their transfer to the PM's Office by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, pending an investigation into the case.

But Big Joke is in a far worse situation than his colleague. He was relieved from the police service by the acting police chief Pol Gen Kitrat Phanphet, which means his status now is just an unemployed civilian without a salary from the force unless he is cleared by a disciplinary committee of any wrongdoings.

Worse still, he is facing money laundering charges related to the BNK Master online gambling ring but the case is still pending with the police.

Big Joke's situation now is akin to that of a cornered dog. His career is on the brink and he has one leg already in prison.

That explains why he is fighting back like a mad dog. His struggle is similar to that of a desperate man with his back against the wall.

His choice was to fight back by filing malfeasance charges against almost 200 people whom he accused of being involved in the investigation into the money laundering case against him.

He has appealed for justice with the Merit System Protection Committee of the Police Service Commission and the anti-corruption watchdog.

How the drama will unfold is still not known. Will there be another miracle for Big Joke?

What is more disturbing than the drama itself is the credibility of the Royal Thai Police as a law enforcement organisation, which appears to be damaged beyond repair.

The mere fact the police chief and the candidate for the next police chief are allegedly involved in money laundering in connection with an online gambling platform is bad enough for the organisation and its credibility. The force appears to be rotten to its very core.

But alas, it seems no one cares much, even the government.

This should be a real wake-up call for something to be done with the Royal Thai Police to restore public trust and confidence in the organisation. But whether it is or not, only time will tell.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

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