National police chief Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang appears to be waging a one-man war against the Immigration Police Bureau.
The police chief, who is due to retire on Sept 30, recently took the bureau to task at a meeting with 259 immigration police officers, from the rank of deputy commissioner down to inspector, by exposing six alleged offences and threatening to fire commissioner Pol Lt-Gen Sakda Chuenpakdee who, for some reason, was not present at the meeting.
I don't want to go into detail about the six alleged offences which have been widely reported in most mainstream newspapers.
In summation, Pol Gen Somyot said the bureau is a "goldmine" where unscrupulous immigration police officers can easily make money and enrich themselves.
He alleged that at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang international airports, the immigration police officers there can make up to 1.8 million baht a day by charging each of the estimated 6,000 arriving tourists who want to apply for an arrival visa 300 baht extra per head on top of the 300-500 baht visa fee.
Last Thursday, the police chief exposed to the media more abuses in the bureau and also about himself when he once served as the deputy commissioner there.
He alleged that immigration police in Aranyaprathet, Sa Kaeo province, charged Adem Karadag (the first suspect arrested by the police for involvement in the Erawan shrine and Sathorn pier bombing incidents) US$600, or about 21,000 baht, every time he left for Cambodia to extend his visa and return to Thailand.
The suspect used this channel to have his visa extended several times, which allowed him to stay in Thailand since last year.
The following is a quote from his interview about the Immigration Police Bureau which is more controversial.
"I believe that everyone knows most immigration police officers are well-connected -- either they are proteges of some 'phuyai' or proteges of their former superiors.
"The superiors know the bureau is a goldmine, but why send their men there?
"I don't want to accuse the superiors of sending their men there to make money so it can be sent to the 'boss'. Or the 'boss' is aware of that money? That is the question I would like to ask."
Another quote from Pol Gen Somyot: "I merely got myself clean from that cesspool. I was the only immigration police officer who asked to be transferred out of the bureau. When I asked to switch posts from deputy commissioner of the Immigration Police Bureau to inspector-general at the National Police Office, I was summoned to see a 'phuyai' who asked what's wrong with immigration.
"I've often said that if I said I did not take any bribes while I was there, nobody would believe me. I stood in the cesspool, how could you not be soiled? Therefore, I decided to leave the cesspool."
I have a few questions for the outgoing police chief. Would he have blown the whistle about the alleged widespread abuses in the Immigration Police Bureau if there were no blasts at the Erawan shrine and Sathorn pier which killed 20 Thais and foreign tourists and injured 130 others?
He has known all along what has been going on at the Immigration Police Bureau, from the inside out. Then why the rhetoric now against the bureau when he has just two weeks left in office, and why does he have to seek the hand of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to do the clean-up job for him?
As national police chief overseeing the bureau, is he so powerless that he cannot fix the problem from inside? I don't think so, even though he claimed most of the officers were well-connected, probably with someone more powerful than him.
The immigration police commissioner is a former aide of Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan, the former police chief and younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit. Just as he claimed, he wanted to look unblemished, all alone, even in the middle of the cesspool. That is why nothing was done when he had the opportunity to right the wrongs -- until the bombings and until the investigation unveiled the fact that some greedy immigration officers had foolishly abetted the suspected bombers.
It reminds me of his handling of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's police rank case. He would have still skipped the case had there been no outside pressure for him to settle it once and for all.
Finally, it was the prime minister who had to finish the job for the police chief by invoking Section 44 to strip Thaksin of his police rank.
And now the police's boss is expecting the prime minister to do him another favour by cleaning up the Immigration Police Bureau.
Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor, Bangkok Post.