Police extortion racket in the crosshairs
Activists help expose cops accused of shaking down drug suspects
An unannounced visit by national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda at the Klong Dan police station last week has unravelled an allegedly brazen act of assault and extortion by a suspected gang of criminals in police uniforms.
Pol Gen Chakthip's surprise visit caught many officers off guard at the station in Samut Prakan.
The police on duty were clueless as to why their highest supervisor had made a personal appearance, although intuition told them the national police chief was not stopping by on a courtesy call.
On May 8, several days prior to the snap visit, 16 people led by high-profile activist Atchariya Ruengrattanapong, head of the Help Crime Victims Club, had also visited the police station.
The police chief was following up on a complaint lodged by the group, who accused six policemen attached to Klong Dan and Bang Phli police stations of assaulting, torturing and extracting money from victims in exchange for not filing drug charges against them.
The 16 victims included a couple whose young child was also allegedly forced to suffer through the ordeal.
On his return to the Royal Thai Police headquarters, Pol Gen Chakthip sent for Pol Maj Gen Chumpol Phumphuang, head of Samut Prakan police.
They had an urgent meeting, where the national police chief was formally briefed on the progress of the investigation into the extortion case, according to a police source.
To ensure the probe is free of meddling, the three most senior officers at Klong Dan station -- the superintendent, deputy superintendent and chief inspector -- have been transferred to inactive posts at the provincial police headquarters pending its results.
Barely 24 hours after the transfer orders were issued, action against six policemen -- Pol Snr Sgt Maj Chatthawat Chaisiripakorn, Pol Cpl Anuwat Panthawong, Pol Cpl Hiran Thalaengsri, Pol Cpl Chaipat Kamolsilp, Pol Cpl Kittithara Charoenworawanich and Pol L/Cpl Likkasit Surapa -- began.
The policemen, who worked either in the crime suppression unit or as investigators, were suspended from duty pending investigations, and potential criminal and/or disciplinary charges.
All, except Pol Cpl Chaipat and Pol Cpl Kittithara, who were with Bang Phli district police, were attached to the Klong Dan station.
Mr Atchariya said four civilians may also be complicit in the crimes. The activist described three extortion cases allegedly involving nine of the 16 victims.
In the first case, a man named Teh (real name withheld), was a police informant who had dealt drugs. With a history of drug abuse, Mr Teh was taken in by the six policemen, who assaulted him and then forced him to find people who could be set up for extortion.
After the brutal assault, which left Mr Teh with permanent damage to his right eye, he was released by the police gang. Fearing for his life, Mr Teh lured a couple he was acquainted with from the Nong Chok area of Bangkok to meet him on April 5.
Mr Teh pretended he was interested in buying drugs from the couple. He then took them to a nearby mosque in Klong Dan district to finalise the drug deal. There, three of the six policemen swooped on and arrested the couple.
The policemen later took the couple to Klong Dan police station, where they were allegedly assaulted. Mr Atchariya said the couple were then told to pay up to avoid criminal charges.
The next morning the wife handed over 200,000 baht and the policemen let them go.
In the second case, which supposedly occurred in the middle of last year, another couple with a three-year-old child were alleged to have been similarly extorted by police.
Nanthawat Ob-orm, 36, said he was driving his family home to Bangkok from Rayong when he received a call from a friend who asked to meet him at a petrol station in Bang Phli district.
When he arrived at the petrol station, policemen came out of nowhere and searched his vehicle for drugs but found none.
They "escorted" the family to a local football pitch, where they allegedly assaulted them and threatened more physical violence if they did not pay them 100,000 baht.
Mr Atchariya said Mr Nanthawat told the policemen he did not have the money.
The policemen then took the family to a bungalow on Sukhumvit Road, where the couple were detained in one room and their child confined in another.
The family spent two nights there and were allegedly subject to torture.
Mr Nanthawat said he later managed to scrape together 52,500 baht and gave it to the policemen, who then released the family.
In the third case, a baby sea bass trader was allegedly arrested in Bang Pakong district of Chachoengsao on April 25 by the police gang, who accused him of having up to 800 methamphetamine pills in his possession.
The man was detained while at a private residence having a drink with his friends, who included former police officers.
The man was taken to Klong Dan police station for questioning and was made to sign documents admitting to the drug charges.
The policemen allegedly told him to bring 200,000 baht in return for his freedom. The man paid the money and was freed.
Pol Maj Gen Chumpol said the investigation into the six policemen has gathered pace and is expected to be wrapped up this week after the victims positively identify their assailants.
"There's reason to believe the policemen have committed these crimes. But at this point in time, no other police officers have been implicated in the case," he said.
Pol Maj Gen Chumpol said commanders must monitor their subordinates' conduct and act swiftly against rogue officers who abuse their power for illegal gain.
Mr Atchariya said the six policemen face several criminal charges, including extortion, forcible detention and assault.