National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda's authority is being challenged, with a deputy national police chief flouting an order to stay away from the Big Joke case and a lawyer demanding he be investigated over the purchase of a biometrics system.
Deputy police chief Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta met reporters at the Office of Police Forensic Science in the grounds of the Royal Thai Police Office on Thursday to supervise the examination of a Lexus SUV driven by Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, aka Big Joke, a former immigration chief and now special adviser to the PM's Office.
A gunman fired eight shots into the car, which is registered to his wife, while it was parked on the street outside a massage parlour in Bang Rak on Monday night.
Pol Gen Wirachai apparently defied an instruction by Pol Gen Chakthip not to meet reporters covering the case, and to wait for the investigation report from the Metropolitan Police Bureau.
The instruction was heard in an audio clip leaked on Thursday morning. In the recording a senior police officer is heard warning a subordinate, and mentions a person named "Joke".
Deputy police spokesman Pol Col Krisana Patanacharoen later confirmed it was a conversation between the national police chief and Pol Gen Wirachai. He said it might have been recorded by an officer who had ill-intentions.
While inspecting Big Joke's car, Pol Gen Wirachai admitted to having a phone conversation with Pol Gen Chakthip, but he would not confirm whether the police chief had ordered him to back off the case.
Pol Gen Wirachai said only that his phone conversation might have been tapped.
He also said that forensic police had found all eight bullets that were fired into the car's passenger-side doors. He expected investigators would be able to say what kind of gun was used in the near future.
Pol Gen Wirachai interrogated Pol Lt Gen Surachate at Bang Rak police station on Wednesday about the shooting on Monday night.
In the audio clip, Pol Gen Chakthip warned Pol Gen Wirachai that the Metropolitan Police Bureau was handling the case and that he should wait for the investigators' report from the bureau.
Pol Gen Chakthip was also heard saying that a police general should not take orders from a police lieutenant general, and that Pol Gen Wirachai should not do anything that would lose his trust.
The chief also told him not to attend a press conference on the case because it looked as if the shooting had been plotted in advance.
On Wednesday Pol Lt Gen Surachate linked the shooting of his car to his opposition to a 2-billion-baht biometric identification system that the Immigration Bureau procured. He also demanded Pol Gen Chakthip take responsibility if those responsible for the attack on his car were not arrested.
Also on Thursday, lawyer Sittra Biabangkerd asked to the National Anti-Corruption Commission to question Pol Gen Chakthip about the procurement of the biometric identification system and of plug-in hybrid patrol vehicles for the Immigration Bureau.
He alleged that Pol Gen Chakthip approved the procurements, but the biometric system was inefficient in some areas and its delivery was delayed.
Mr Sittra said he had asked the NACC last May to investigate the procurement. He testified before an NACC sub-committee on the case on Thursday.
He also said the sub-committee would question Pol Lt Gen Surachate about the matter on Friday.
Pol Lt Gen Surachate was last year suddenly transferred out of the police force and made a special adviser to the prime minister, a civilian position.
His replacement as immigration chief, Pol Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang, said on Thursday the procured biometric system was efficient and that Pol Lt Surachate should not link the project to a personal conflict.
National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda (file photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)