Cops, pimps targetted in probe
Police seek three or four more suspects
More arrest warrants will be issued for policemen and pimps who are embroiled in the sex trafficking of teenage girls in Mae Hong Son.
Pol Col Montri Baothong, an investigator at the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division (ATPD), said Wednesday that investigators are speaking to witnesses and plan to seek more warrants for three or four suspects allegedly involved in the flesh trade.
Among the new suspects are female pimps and police officers. Their names were not disclosed. The warrants are expected to be approved today.
Meanwhile, ATPD chief Kornchai Klayklueng said the probe also found that more high-ranking state officials including policemen could be involved in the sex ring.
The policemen include a deputy superintendent, a deputy inspector and a non-commissioned officer.
Pol Maj Gen Kornchai said investigators are gathering evidence to prove whether they were linked to the racket as claimed by a witness, the mother of one of the victims.
He said police had questioned three suspects, who were detained earlier, and two victims, aged 17 and 19 at the time of the alleged offences.
The three comprise two alleged female pimps and Yutthachai Thongchart, a police senior sergeant-major formerly attached to Mae Hong Son police.
They have been charged with colluding to force teenagers aged between 15-18 into prostitution and abducting children. The three denied the charges.
Pol Maj Gen Kornchai said the investigation will be split into two parts: The first is supervised by Police Region 5 in charge of the North and Mae Hong Son police; and the second involves human trafficking overseen by the ATPD.
Pol Col Montri said although the victims are now aged over 18, legal action will be retroactively taken against offenders.
The sex trade scandal surfaced in November last year, after authorities cracked down on prostitution rings in Mae Hong Son.
An initial probe found several high-ranking state officials were alleged clients of the sex ring, including Mae Hong Son governor Suebsak Iamwicharn.
The witness saw a picture of her daughter among girls forced into prostitution allegedly by a local police senior sergeant-major, who ran a flesh trade ring.
The mother also complained about the slow pace of the investigation and asked why the policeman at the heart of the flesh trade network was not prosecuted.
The Federation of Assistant District Chiefs of Thailand later petitioned the DSI to launch a probe into the case.
Also Wednesday, the mother, accompanied by lawyer Keodpol Kaewkeod, met Department of Special Investigation (DSI) deputy chief Korawat Panprapakorn to ask for witness protection for the sake of her safety.
The move came after the woman claimed she was contacted by a phu yai, or a local influential figure, on the issue.
Mr Keodpol said local authorities attempted to contact his client, saying they wanted her to meet a phu yai who was concerned about the matter.
According to the lawyer, the influential figure wanted to meet the woman at the state's security affairs agency in the province, which for him raised concerns about his client's safety.
Pol Lt Col Korawat said he will assign Pol Lt Col Komvich Padhanarath, director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Centre, to consider a witness protection programme.
Asked whether the DSI will accept the teenage sex trade as a special case, Pol Lt Col Korawat said he was told the investigation overseen by local police had made progress.
Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paojinda said an investigation panel had been set up to probe Mr Suebsak.
The probe result is expected in 30 days, he said, adding action will be taken against the ministry's officials at all levels.