Police officers bribed 'Big Joke' imposter for promotions

Police officers bribed 'Big Joke' imposter for promotions

Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, right, deputy commissioner of tourist police, explains the
Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, right, deputy commissioner of tourist police, explains the "Big Joke" imposter case to reporters at the Royal Thai Police Office on Tuesday. A taxi driver pretending to be him was given more than 5 million baht in bribes by officers wanting promotions.(Tourist police photo)

Several police officers face investigation and possibly serious disciplinary action after paying about 5 million baht for promotions to a person they believed to be the high-profile deputy tourist police chief Surachate Hakparn, aka Big Joke.

The real Big Joke told a news conference at the Royal Thai Police Office in Bangkok on Tuesday that the imposter was actually taxi driver Paijit Saiya, 40.

Mr Paijit created a LINE chat account using Pol Maj Gen Surachate's photo, and pretended to be him. The suspect first contacted Pol Lt Col Pong-anant Chubram, investigative superintendent in Nakhon Phanom province, in 2014.

He then developed a relationship through the chat application and phone calls with six other police officers, including Pol Col Ukkrit Songchaisa-nguan, deputy commander of Kalasin provincial police.

Before the 2016 police reshuffle, Pol Col Ukkrit paid one million baht to the suspect, asking for a promotion. Pol Col Ukkrit was promoted, but that was based on his proven capabilities, Pol Maj Gen Surachate said.

However, the promotion made the chat line Big Joke credible. Later five other police officers followed suit.

Pol Lt Col Pong-anant gathered 4.21 million baht in total from the five officers and Pol Col Ukkrit, who wanted another promotion in the 2017 reshuffle. Their payments ranged from 100,000 to 2.5 million baht each. The policemen were from the level of a squad leader to a deputy commander.

In the 2017 reshuffle, only Pol Col Ukkrit was promoted - this time to deputy commander of Kalasin police. The five others then became suspicious about the chat line Big Joke they had approached and filed complaints with police in Nakhon Phanom province.

Investigators identified the suspect through a bank account he used to accept the bribes, and an arrest warrant was issued in Nakhon Phanom for Mr Paijit on Monday.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate said Mr Paijit fled the northeastern province and hid in Bangkok. He was arrested at an apartment building on Soi Onnut 46 in Suan Luang district.

The suspect had acted alone and spent the money buying 16-rai of land and taxis he leased out to other drivers, the real Big Joke said.

The policemen involved in the case would be investigated and could face disciplinary action for bribery, which could cost them their jobs, Pol Maj Gen Surachate said.

Mr Paijit said he knew Pol Maj Gen Surachate from news reports and decided to pretend to be the deputy commissioner because of his widely publicised activities. He said the police officers had offered the bribes themselves, he had not asked for them.

The taxi driver was charged with fraud and computer crime.

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