Kingdom's top cops set poor example
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Kingdom's top cops set poor example

Deputy National Police Chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn. After being dismissed from the Royal Thai Police pending investigation, he will likely be reinstated as a senior police officer. Nutthawat Wichieanbut
Deputy National Police Chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn. After being dismissed from the Royal Thai Police pending investigation, he will likely be reinstated as a senior police officer. Nutthawat Wichieanbut

The handling of the bitter feud between two heavyweights of the Royal Thai Police, Torsak Sukivimol and Surachate Hakparn, aka Big Joke, by a prime minister-appointed committee led by Chatchai Promlert is typical of a Thai style of conflict resolution that reflects the "mai pen rai" and "forget about it" attitude, despite the core issue being the integrity and honesty of the two officers.

Hence, the outcome of the four-month investigation by the Chatchai committee and several other subcommittees revealed by Wissanu Krea-ngam, a special legal adviser to the prime minister, last week at the Government House was an outright letdown. Call the exercise a "farce" or a "circus" if you wish.

Chatchai, the head investigator, who should have shed light on the cause of the feud between Torsak and Pol Gen Surachate and whether it concerned the spoils of the lucrative online gambling business, as many of us believe, was conspicuously absent from the press conference.

Also missing were the two other members. Only Mr Wissanu was there to brief the media about the legal technicalities of Pol Gen Surachate's case, with barely a mention of the essence of the investigation.

In summary, Mr Wissanu told the media there is widespread conflict among police over their handling of four high-profile crime cases, namely the BNK Master and Minnie online gambling business and the Kamnan Nok case.

But he intentionally did not delve into details of the conflict or whether it concerned the distribution of the proceeds of illegal gambling.

As the Thai saying goes, "There are no friends where money is concerned".

The core issue concerns the honesty, ethical conduct and integrity of two men who were trusted to assume the post of national police chief.

Whether Torsak or Pol Gen Surachate will be reinstated is secondary, as both men have suffered tainted reputations in the eyes of the public and were written off as unacceptable and unsuitable for reinstatement, particularly Pol Gen Surachate, whom Wissanu said nonetheless remains a candidate for the police chief's post.

For now, it is a "win-win" situation for both officers, although, according to Mr Wissanu, they will have to fend for themselves over cases still pending in court or with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Pol Gen Surachate was charged with money laundering along with five of his trusted officers in connection with the BNK Master illegal gambling racket. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the court last year.

For now, the portraits of both Torsak and Pol Gen Surachate have been re-installed at Royal Thai Police head office, although Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has yet to approve Torsak's reinstatement. However, he is conveniently due to retire in the next few months anyway.

Of greater concern is Pol Gen Surachate, who still has six years to serve in the police service before his mandatory retirement. The main public concern is about his questionable background and honesty.

"Big Joke" has handled several high-profile cases, which made him a rising star in the police force.

These include the serial cyanide murder case; the raid of the Jin Ling pub in Yannawa district, which led to the arrest of Chinese "grey" businessman Tu Hao, who is also known by the Thai name of Chainut Kornchayanan; the case of the missing 8-month-old baby in Nakhon Pathom and the probe into the "Zero Dollar" tourism business back in 2016.

Of all Pol Gen Surachate's achievements, one big dark spot appears to have overshadowed them and tarnished his reputation and that of the Royal Thai Police.

Many of us, Pol Gen Surachate included, may have forgotten about the case that took place in 2016. It concerned a group of tourism-related companies catering to Chinese tourists, which were accused of being front companies operating a "zero-dollar" tourism business.

These include Zin Yuan Travel, OA Transport, Royal James International, Royal Thai Herb, Bangkok Handicrafts Centre, Fu An Travel.

Some were wholly Chinese-owned but with Thai nominees as major shareholders. Others were Thai-owned, such as OA Transport.

Altogether, 13 executives of the companies were hit with multiple charges ranging from money laundering and tax evasion to criminal association and overpricing of products sold to Chinese tourists.

Four members of the Roongrojrangsee family, which owned the OA Transport Company, were among the defendants.

At the time company operated a fleet of 2,500 tour buses to take Chinese tourists on sightseeing tours around the country.

All the defendants were found not guilty as charged and acquitted by the Criminal, Appeal and Supreme courts.

However, by the time the Supreme Court delivered its final not guilty verdict on March 3, 2022, OA Transport Company had gone bankrupt after its bus fleet was impounded before the lengthy court battle.

About 9,000 staff, mostly drivers and bus attendants, were rendered jobless as a result of the case.

Here are some extracts of the Supreme Court's acquittal verdict: "The charges and evidence of the prosecution are based on the police information alone, without any witnesses or direct evidence from those in the tourism business. Also, the prosecution witnesses gave conflicting statements irrelevant to the charges".

"Testimonies given by the competitors of the OA group did not imply the defendants forced or coerced tourists to buy products from their shops."

"The court feels that all charges against the defendants were speculation by the prosecution based on information obtained by the police and officials of the Anti-Money Laundering Office, which are not direct evidence."

The Supreme Court's verdict speaks volumes about the shoddiness and complete lack of professionalism in the handling of this high-profile case by men under the supervision of Pol Gen Surachate.

The OA Transport Company lies in ruins, and the Roongrojrangsee family, who laboured honestly for years to build their business empire, is shattered. Yet neither Pol Gen Surachate nor the Royal Thai Police has offered an apology.

And yet this man is being aided and groomed to be the next national police chief.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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