Hitman hired to settle TAO row

Hitman hired to settle TAO row

Dodgy deals lead to attempts on whistleblower's life

Crime Suppression Division chief Pol Maj Gen Jirapop Phuridech
Crime Suppression Division chief Pol Maj Gen Jirapop Phuridech

As dawn broke, a fully armed special weapons and tactics (Swat) team led by Crime Suppression Division (CSD) chief Pol Maj Gen Jirapop Phuridech showed up at Huai Yot district police station in Trang on Oct 11.

Pol Maj Gen Jirapop led dozens of subordinates as they waited outside the station building. The commander then shouted: "Everybody at the ready!"

The officers fanned out in a special operation codenamed "Pracha Unchai Khondi Tong Mi Thiyuen" (people feel safe and decent people must have a place in society) and raided several spots in tambon Bang Di of the district. Ten suspects were netted in the operation.

Earlier this year, two gun attacks took place at the house of Piyarat Nitkhong, 45, a member of the Bang Di Tambon Administrative Organisation (TAO).

Mr Piyarat's house was left riddled with bullet holes following the attacks. He is known to have tipped off authorities about a corruption case in the TAO. The attacks were carried out on Feb 23 and March 12.

Mr Piyarat said the attacks were a blatant attempt on his life. Although he survived unhurt, he feared he might not be so lucky if he was attacked again.

Local police were unable to identify the culprits for the attacks, and that worried Mr Piyarat, who decided to ask for help from the CSD based in Bangkok.

After receiving Mr Piyarat's complaint, Pol Maj Gen Jirapop assigned a team of undercover agents to investigate the case in Huai Yot district. Over a month later the team reported back on irregularities in procurement projects by the Bang Di TAO as alleged by Mr Piyarat.

A group of people were thought to have colluded in rigging the bidding for the projects with a local politician found to be behind the group, according to the CSD.

Mr Piyarat disclosed details of the irregularities, including allegedly inflated prices quoted for the projects as well as his theory that a hitman belonging to a drugs gang in the North was paid to carry out the attacks on him.

After receiving information from Mr Piyarat, the CSD sought to have the gun attack investigation transferred from Trang local police to the CSD.

Not long after the transfer, the CSD obtained arrest warrants for a number of suspects in the case.

The warrants were followed by the Pol Maj Gen Jirapop-led raids on Oct 11.

One suspect detained for questioning was Phiraphong Chumuang, a village headman in tambon Bang Di who allegedly contacted the hitman and arranged for him to carry out the shootings.

Mr Phiraphong is among the four suspects in the first group arrested by police. The others were Watcharaphan Chongcharoen who is accused of securing the gun for the hitman, Saktham Muangchuay who allegedly led the hitman to Mr Piyarat's house and Kamonsak Thaimitchop who police say took the gun from Mr Watcharaphan and kept it for the gunman.

Six more people were detained as suspects in a second group linked to the first group. Evidence showed both groups were complicit in the two gun attacks.

Suspects in the second group were identified as Laksanawong Chaiphak, Daoruang Somsaeng, Wichet Nin-or, Somsak Chansongsaeng, Somkhwan Phalakan and Phongsak Samutsan. Mr Laksanawong and Miss Daoruang were found to have opened bank accounts to receive money paid to the people organising the attacks on Mr Piyarat's house.

Items seized during the arrests of the second group of suspects included 249 tablets of methamphetamine, 4 grammes of crystal methamphetamine, six pistols, six rifles, 50 bullets and two bags of gunpowder.

Based on witness accounts and evidence obtained by the CSD, the most likely reason behind the gun attacks was Mr Piyarat's whistleblower role, according to Pol Maj Gen Jirapop.

Mr Piyarat's disclosures about alleged irregularities in the procurement projects led to disputes between him and other TAO executives, said Pol Maj Gen Jirapop.

The CSD has also found a local politician is pulling the strings behind the questionable projects as well as the gun attacks on Mr Piyarat's house, he said.

The CSD is gathering more evidence to back a court warrant for the politician's arrest, he said.

"Even though no one was killed, the attacks come as a serious challenge to law enforcement officers like us and we will never bow to it," said Pol Maj Gen Jirapop.

The village headman who allegedly hired the gunman to attack Mr Piyarat's house is found to have close ties with the local politician identified as Mr Piyarat's enemy, said Pol Maj Gen Jirapop.

The CSD is tracking down the gunman and another suspect who drove the gunman to the scene, he said. All those detained have denied any connection to the attacks.

Contact Crime Track: crimetrack@bangkokpost.co.th

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