DSI 'confident' Billy's case closed before deadline

DSI 'confident' Billy's case closed before deadline

More witnesses questioned, cops mull arrest warrants

An artist shows the picture of Karen rights activist Porlajee ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen in drawing which is on display at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
An artist shows the picture of Karen rights activist Porlajee ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen in drawing which is on display at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The investigation into the death of Karen rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen might be wrapped up sooner than the deadline set by the Department of Special Investigations (DSI), according to its chief.

DSI chief Paisit Wongmuang said on Monday that he was confident that the high-profile probe will be concluded before the three-month deadline.

Investigators are speeding up their work in gathering witness accounts and forensic evidence. 

However, Pol Col Paisit's deputy, Korrawat Panprapakorn, who is in charge of the investigation, declined to give a definite time frame. 

Pol Lt Col Korrawat said department investigators had a two-hour meeting on Monday to assess the information they collected in the case.  

The information was compiled by teams who scoured areas near the reservoir in Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, where burnt pieces of skull fragments, later confirmed to be that of Porlajee's, was found. Meanwhile, other teams were in Bangkok piecing together the evidence.  

Porlajee was last seen on April 17, 2014, in the custody of park officials. It was officially a missing persons case until the DSI last week ruled it to be a murder, following the discovery of the skull fragment.

On April 26 and May 22-24, a sonar-equipped underwater drone was deployed along with divers from the Border Patrol Police to comb specific locations at the bottom of the reservoir near a rope bridge where the skull fragments were found.

They found an oil barrel, its lid, two steel rods, a burnt piece of wood, and two bone fragments. The Justice Ministry's Central Institute of Forensic Science found that one of the fragments was a part of a human skull, which had cracked and shrunk due to exposure to extremely high temperatures.

The thumb-sized bone piece — the petrous part of the skull's temporal bone — found at the bottom of the barrel was a crucial piece of evidence, as it allowed investigators to run DNA analysis.

As the mitochondrial DNA of in the bone matched that of Porlajee’s mother, the DSI concluded that it belonged to Porlajee, Pol Lt Col Korrawat said earlier.

Prior to his murder, Porlajee was arrested for helping his ethnic Karen relatives to sue Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, for setting fire to their bamboo huts and rice barns during a series of evictions.

Mr Chaiwat and his team subsequently faced a murder charge related to Porlajee’s disappearance, but were eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence. Mr Chaiwat is now the chief of Protected Area Office 9, Ubon Ratchathani. 

Yesterday, Pol Lt Col Korrawat said more witnesses were being questioned, and as such it was too early to speculate whether there will be enough evidence to request the court to approve arrest warrants for suspects in Porlajee's murder.

He also refused to say how many people are considered as persons of interest in the case. 

"Please, give the investigators time to get to the bottom of this," he said. 

Last week, four park staff who allegedly witnessed Porlajee's arrest were transferred out of Kaeng Krachan National Park, after the DSI announced that Porlajee's disappearance as a homicide case, according to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

A source in the DSI said on Monday that arrest warrants may be issued for suspects which authorities deem a flight risk, or are likely to meddle with the investigation.

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