'Kotee' implicated in arms haul

'Kotee' implicated in arms haul

Detainee spills beans on hardcore red shirt

Multiple firearms, including BB guns, are displayed at the Crime Suppression Division as nine suspects linked to hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, were handed over by army officers to police on Friday. (Photo and video by Apichit Jinakul)
Multiple firearms, including BB guns, are displayed at the Crime Suppression Division as nine suspects linked to hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, were handed over by army officers to police on Friday. (Photo and video by Apichit Jinakul)

A man arrested in a raid which uncovered a huge cache of weapons in Pathum Thani last Saturday has claimed hardcore red-shirt leader Wuthipong Kochathamakun, alias Kotee, bought the items with donated money and used them during clashes with the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) demonstrators.

Theerachai Utarawichian, 55, was among nine people in Mr Wuthipong's network, who were handed over by soldiers to police at the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) on Friday following seven days of detention by the military.

They were arrested in raids on nine locations in seven provinces last Saturday.

Officials conducted raids in nine locations in seven provinces last Saturday.

The announcement of the seizure of a huge cache of weapons has been met with scepticism from some observers who believed it was a setup.

Speaking at a news briefing organised by the police, Mr Theerachai, said he started working for Mr Wuthipong in 2013. His job was to take care of equipment in a community radio station run by the hardcore red-shirt leader.

He claimed Mr Wuthipong, who has now fled to Laos, used donations to buy the firearms which were retrieved from one of the houses that were raided, adding he did not know where Mr Wuthipong acquired the weapons.

According to Mr Theerachai, the weapons had been used twice. The first was in an incident at the National Memorial in Pathum Thani and the other at Laksi intersection, where red-shirt supporters clashed with rival PDRC demonstrators on Feb 1, 2014, a day before the election.

He said Mr Wuthipong asked him to keep all the firearms and radio station equipment at his house after the coup in May 2014. He said the weapons had not been used since.

Mr Theerachai said he met Mr Wuthipong three times in Laos, and the most recent visit was last month. He claimed they discussed ways to "fight" the government.

He said Mr Wuthipong referred to a former minister in the past government who said there were more weapons in two containers, but Mr Wuthipong said he had never seen them.

"Every time I met Kotee, I was not ordered to cause unrest. I also do not believe Kotee has the potential to cause violence," said Mr Theerachai.

Others handed over to police by the army include Prathuang On-lamun, 58, Palida Ruangsuwan, 62, Wanchaichana Krutchaiyan, 56, Aem-on Watkaew, 44, Thossapol Ketkosol, 25, Udomchai Nopsawas, 60, SM1 Thanachot Wongjanchompoo, 57 and Suriyasak Chatpitakkul, 49.

Mr Wanchaichana said he usually visited Mr Theerachai to talk about politics and meet others with similar opinions.

He insisted the discussions never touched upon ways to stir up violence.

Referring to officers seeing him at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Mr Wanchaichana said he was at the temple only because he was to be picked up by someone he knew, insisting he had never entered the temple compound.

According to officers, some suspects confessed to using the weapons during the 2010 red-shirt political demonstrations against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva.

They also said after 2010, the red shirts held several meetings to carry out violent attacks in Bangkok and its surrounding provinces.

The nine suspects will be handed to officials at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) who agreed to investigate the case as it is linked with the 2010 political demonstrations.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said there are still four suspects who are on the run, including Mr Wuthipong, 48. The other three are Boontem Raksapainai, 54, Somjit Sabudda, 64, and Wanlop Ratrung, 45.

They are wanted on charges of possessing war weapons and explosives.

Pol Maj Gen Chayapol Chatchaidej, one of the case's police investigators, said officers believe the suspects in Mr Wuthipong's network were collecting arms in preparation to cause unrest. The group held several meetings to map out plans to use force against officials who had tried to seize Wat Phra Dhammakaya, he said.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd insisted the government has evidence to prove their theory and it would abide by proper procedures in dealing with the case.

"The government and the National Council for Peace and Order knows well every time officials launch operations to search, seize or find evidence in cases, there are always words from offenders, those at a disadvantage or ill-intentioned people, who try to distort the matter," Lt Gen Sansern said, adding authorities are dealing with the case.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has filed a police complaint against two anchors of a TV programme who he said links him with Mr Wuthipong. The complaint concerns defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act.

The petition was lodged on Friday by his lawyer, Chumsai Sriyapai, at the Technology Crime Suppression Division.

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