Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) police searched the house of deputy national police chief Pol Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn in Bangkok on Monday morning after he was allegedly found to have been involved in gambling site operations.
The search was part of a larger operation code-named "Big Cleaning Day".
Cyber crime police, armed with a court search warrant, were reportedly accompanied by police from the Anti-Corruption Division and Metropolitan Police special operations commandos.
Also to be searched under warrants were five houses in Soi Vibhavadi 60 behind the Police Club. The houses were reportedly bought by Pol Gen Surachate for his subordinates.
When police arrived about 8am, Pol Gen Surachate was at his house and received them wearing only a pair of boxers and white T-shirt. He reportedly refused to let the police into his house, citing his position as deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police.
The search team had to wait for Pol Lt Gen Voravat Watnakhonbancha, the CCIB commissioner, to arrive to talk with Pol Gen Surachate about the search warrant. After Pol Gen Voravat arrived, Pol Gen Surachate allowed the search.
Pol Gen Surachate's house, in Soi Vibhavadi 60, was reportedly among about 30 houses to be searched on Monday in Bangkok and five provinces - Phetchaburi, Samut Prakan, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Saraburi.
The other houses reportedly belong to junior police officers close to Pol Gen Surachate and alleged to have been involved in online gambling sites operating in Laos with about one billion baht in circulation.
CCIB police investigating the financial transactions of the network found sufficient evidence to convince a court to issue search and arrest warrants.
In operation "Big Cleaning Day" a number of officers, including a police major general and a police colonel, in a team of investigators under Pol Gen Surachate were reportedly arrested. They were expected to be taken to Metropolitan Police Division 5 headquarters on Sathorn road for questioning.
Pol Gen Surachate is one of four deputy national police chiefs, all eligible to aspire to the position of national police chief when Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas retires at the end of September.
Pol Gen Surachate confirmed to reporters that five or six of his subordinates faced arrest warrants for alleged involvement in online gambling and said he and his subordinates would prove their innocence.
Pol Gen Surachate said he cooperated and the search of his home found nothing illegal. He had never received any money from any gambling website, and acted only to suppress the operations of such websites. He was confident of his subordinates’ innocence.
Asked if he was worried about his prospects for the job of national police chief, Pol Gen Surachate said he was not a candidate. After the search, he planned to go to work as usual.
Pol Lt Gen Voravat, the CCIB commissioner, said the search was a part of an expanded investigation into online gambling and investigators believed some suspects had stayed at Pol Gen Surachate’s residences.
He did not know details of the suppression action. It was the responsibility of the Police Cyber Task Force, which had requested teams from CCIB to support the searches in many provinces on Monday.
Pol Gen Surachate was born in 1970 in Songkhla. His father was a junior police officer who had close ties to Samer Damapong, a former deputy police chief.
After attending the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, he later joined Class 41 of the Royal Police Cadet Academy (RPCA).
A rising star among Class 41 alumni, he rose quickly through the ranks. After being appointed deputy inspector at age 24 in Chiang Mai, he rose to inspector in 2000 at age 30, deputy superintendent in 2004, and superintendent in 2008.
In 2012, he was appointed the deputy commander of the Songkhla Police Force. During this time, he also led a forward command overseeing four insurgency-hit border districts. In 2015, he was promoted to the rank of police major general.
Since leading a crackdown on foreigners illegally staying in the country in 2017, Pol Gen Surachate has become one of the most visible faces of the Royal Thai Police. His handling of the case of a Saudi woman who narrowly avoided deportation from Thailand on her way to Australia earned him praise.
He was appointed as the chief of the Immigration Bureau in September 2018 and removed from his post in 2019 for unclear reasons. As chief of the Immigration Bureau, he frequently appeared in news headlines.
In March 2019 he was appointed the a special adviser on strategy to the Royal Thai Police by then Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The position was equal in rank to an assistant police chief position. He was later named a deputy police chief.
In 2020 Pol Gen Surachate was the apparent target of gunmen who fired seven bullets into his car while it was parked on Surawong Road in Bang Rak district of Bangkok. He was attending a meeting at the time.
He denied that the incident had been staged, saying the attack was related to the Immigration Bureau’s controversial procurement of an expensive biometric system.
The case was never solved, and a senior officer was later dismissed over the leak of a recording in which a superior is heard telling him not to pursue the investigation.
The Administrative Court in 2021 overturned the order removing Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta as deputy police chief and called for his benefits to be reinstated.