'Art thief' hearing to finish quickly

'Art thief' hearing to finish quickly

Suphat: Arrested for stealing three paintings worth less than 5,000 baht
Suphat: Arrested for stealing three paintings worth less than 5,000 baht

A probe into the theft of Japanese paintings by the deputy chief of the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) is expected to be wrapped up in the next one or two days, to be followed by a disciplinary investigation against him, says the Commerce Ministry.

Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said Monday the probe team was formed on Friday and the work is being expedited. The findings are expected to be released in a couple of days as the theft remains a matter of public interest.

Suphat Saguandeekul, deputy director-general of the DIP, has been ordered to temporarily assist work at the ministry, pending the probe.

Mr Suphat was arrested for stealing three paintings worth about ¥15,000 (4,635 baht) from a hotel in Japan last Tuesday. He was released from detention in Japan on Friday after he paid damages and admitted to the theft. He has since returned to Thailand.

Japanese prosecutors and police determined he committed a petty, unpremeditated crime which did not cause damage to others.

A source at the ministry said earlier Mr Suphat could face a penalty, ranging from probation to a salary cut, termination of employment or expulsion from his agency.

After the probe is concluded, the question of disciplinary action will be considered by a panel represented by the Civil Service Commission, the Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office. The panel members also include three officials from the Commerce Ministry.

Ms Apiradi said the probe will be fair and is not designed to protect Mr Suphat.

The commerce minister said the aim of the suspension was to remove Mr Suphat from an executive role at the DIP to allow a smooth investigation into the theft.

On Saturday, the Association for the Protection of the Constitution demanded Mr Suphat's immediate dismissal.

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