Seventeen officials on Friday gave statements to police in connection with the bribery case against the former head of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).
Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya was arrested at his office on Dec 27 on suspicion of demanding or taking bribes from subordinates and malfeasance.
An envelope containing 98,000 baht was found during his arrest while envelopes containing another 4.9 million baht with the names of subordinates on them were found in Mr Rutchada’s safe.
The department officials who gave statements on Friday were those who paid a bribe of 98,000 baht and those from whom bribes were demanded, said Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew, commander of the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD).
He said the officials claimed they paid the bribes out of fear of mistreatment and harassment.
According to Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat, six other officials have been summoned to meet police on Jan 11 and eight others will be asked to give statements on Jan 12.
He said police had so far found no connection between Mr Rutchada and other people in the investigation. The DNP chief has refused to give statements to police.
Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat said Mr Rutchada did not interfere or intimidate witnesses as claimed by some media reports. Mr Rutchada was released on bail set at 400,000 baht as police did not consider him a flight risk.
The ACD will submit its investigation report to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) later this month, the commander said.
The high-profile arrest followed a complaint by Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former head of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi, who accused the department chief of abusing his authority by transferring officials who refused to pay him 500,000 baht to positions far from their home provinces.
Mr Chaiwat and three others are facing murder charges in connection with the disappearance and murder of Karen rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 when Mr Chaiwat was in charge of Kaeng Krachan park.
Mr Chaiwat last served as director of Protected Areas Regional Office 9 in Ubon Ratchathani before being sacked for his alleged role in the burning of Karen villagers’ homes in Kaeng Krachan park a decade ago. He challenged the order and the Administrative Court last September ordered him reinstated in the civil service.