Boat saga hard to take
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Boat saga hard to take

The public has already heard numerous examples of criminal evidence vanishing from police custody but the recent case of three oil-smuggling boats that disappeared from a police pier in Chon Buri is too preposterous to process.

The case is a slap in the face that risks burying trust in the Royal Thai Police (RTP). The three large vessels that were confiscated -- loaded with 330,000 litres of contraband diesel -- had been docked at the marine police pier in Chon Buri's Sattahip district since March.

On June 12 they vanished from the dock along with 15 crew members who had been charged with smuggling oil and then subsequently released on bail. The government on Tuesday recovered the ships with eight crew members near the maritime border with Malaysia and towed them back to Songkhla province. Almost all 330,000 litres of diesel oil -- worth about 10 million baht -- had been siphoned off, while five other crew remain at large.

Before this shocking case, we have read many reports of confiscated evidence vanishing from police custody, such as guns, phones and even vehicles. A pickup truck confiscated at a police station in Sa Kaew province last year was among the cases that drew headlines when it went missing. A police probe later found it had been towed to a recycling shop nearby and dismantled to be sold as scrap metal, with the engine also removed and sold. After he was arrested, the shop owner confessed he had paid officers at the station 30,000 baht to get his hands on the vehicle.

Three years ago, 31 confiscated motorcycles went missing from another station in Na Thawi district in Songkhla province. To date, only one officer there has faced a probe after he was found to have sold one of the bikes back to its former owner.

However, the most notorious case involved the theft of jewels from Saudi Arabia that marred diplomatic ties between Thailand and the Saudis for around three decades after bracelets and rings were confiscated by the police and then went missing. What is even more shocking is that some of these "valuable items" were later found and returned to Saudi Arabia's royal family -- only to prove to be replicas of the originals.

A report from the State Audit Office in 2020 ordered police to overhaul documentation and safety measures to better protect criminal evidence. The office even launched audits at some police facilities and checked into various complaints. The report confirmed that a significant amount of criminal evidence had in fact disappeared from police custody. The office recommended the RTP improve their ability to protect such valuable evidence by appointing key people to oversee it at each station, while also tightening security at safekeeping sites. As one such measure, it urged the RTP to ensure officers send any confiscated money to the Ministry of Finance with the utmost haste, instead of leaving caches of cash in police custody given the temptation some may feel to illegally profit from it.

The police tend to handle cases of missing evidence, such as the three boats once laden with oil, in a bureaucratic manner, promising to launch new probes and often, transferring a few rank-and-file officers to other or inactive posts. The police chief clearly needs to solve this problem at a fundamental level. The State Audit Office has provided specific recommendations and they need to be followed. Leaving such problems unchecked will surely encourage more unscrupulous officers to profit from disposing of criminal evidence -- resulting in a double injustice to society.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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