Shot ZPOT boss's name 'was in clear'

Shot ZPOT boss's name 'was in clear'

Sour grapes spurred claims: ex-head

All allegations once made against Suriya Saengpong, the director of the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand murdered recently, were found to be groundless, former ZPOT director Sophon Damnui said on Friday.

He was speaking after ZPOT launched an investigation into missing animals and the possibility of illegal animal trading at its zoos amid claims that staff may have been involved in animal trafficking. Suriya was shot dead last Saturday during a meeting called to look into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of two rare albino barking deer at Songkhla Zoo. The gunman, Phuwadol Suwanna, a senior veterinarian and head of the zoo's conservation, research and animal health division, shot and killed himself in his living quarters inside the zoo compound shortly after.

A male albino barking deer born at the zoo in December last year went missing in February. While it is still unclear what happened to the animal, another albino barking deer of the same generation went missing last month.

Commenting on the saga, Mr Sophon said all 21 unsigned allegations made against Suriya concerning his performance, which were similar to about 10 allegations made against himself by the time he rose to the top job at ZPOT, had already been proved to be untrue. The claims made about his own performance had also been shown to be untrue, he said.

The allegations against Suriya had been lodged since 2018 and were pushed by someone who didn't want Suriya to become the new chief of ZPOT, said Mr Sophon. And since all those allegations were found by ZPOT's board to be groundless, Suriya's appointment was eventually endorsed, he said.

Asked about the possibility that illegal wildlife trading at Songkhla Zoo could be a motive behind the murder of Suriya, Mr Sophon said it was highly unlikely that any such illegal trade of wildlife exists at the zoo. The list of all wild animals kept at the zoo is updated and frequently audited by the State Audit Office, he said, adding that in the event irregularities arise, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is called in to investigate.

A panel set up by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa is probing Suriya's murder. Mr Sophon insisted both Suriya and Phuwadol were good at wildlife protection, saying he believed personal conflicts were to blame.

Kosin Rattanawibun, a former Songkhla Zoo official, who was accused of stealing a rhino horn from the zoo in 2018, yesterday turned himself in to police and denied any wrongdoing. The missing rhino horn case come under scrutiny again after the murder case made headlines.

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