Deputy police chief Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol is strongly tipped to be named the new police chief on Wednesday following a high-profile house search of another contender Pol Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn, as part of a police probe into online gambling websites.
The raid of Pol Gen Surachate's house in Bangkok on Monday morning was under an operation code-named "Big Cleaning Day", which targeted 30 houses in Bangkok and five provinces -- Phetchaburi, Samut Prakan, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Saraburi.
Several of the other houses reportedly belonged to police officers who are close to Pol Gen Surachate and are alleged to have been involved in online gambling sites operating in Laos with about one billion baht in circulation.
The search came a few days before Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is expected to pick a new police chief this week to succeed Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas, who will retire on Sept 30.
A source in the Police Commission said Mr Srettha is widely expected to name Pol Gen Torsak for the top police post at Wednesday's meeting.
The majority of the Police Commission does not support Pol Gen Surachate because he stands accused of unfair transfer of junior officers, which has upset several in the force, the source told the Bangkok Post.
"Pol Gen Surachate has eight years to go before his mandatory retirement, and his chance of being named national police chief this year is ruled out after the house raid," said the source.
The other two candidates -- Pol Gen Roy Ingkapairote, who is due to retire next year and Pol Gen Kittirat Phanphet, who is due to retire in 2026 -- are low-profile officers, and each only has a slim chance of becoming the new police chief.
Pol Gen Torsak, on the other hand, is a high-profile officer who rose to fame after he served in the Crime Suppression Division, the source said.
He served as commander of the Police Royal Guards 904 Division before becoming a deputy chief of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB). He became the CIB chief and was named an assistant police chief before being promoted to deputy chief.
Torsak: Seen as favourite
The search of Pol Gen Surachate's house was planned by ️Police Cyber Taskforce (PCT) Team 4 and the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) amid rumours that Pol Gen Torsak and Pol Gen Surachate were not on good terms in the wake of the lethal shooting of a policeman at the house of Praween Chankhlai, also known as Kamnan Nok, in Muang district of Nakhon Pathom province on Sept 6.
Pol Gen Surachate's investigation team reportedly put pressure on Pol Col Vachira Yaothaisong, commander of Highway Police sub-division 2, who shot himself dead. Pol Col Vachira was reportedly close to Pol Gen Torsak, the source said.
Pol Gen Surachate's team also pursued dereliction of duty charges against several officers in a move seen as an attempt to undermine Pol Gen Torsak. Pol Gen Surachate's investigation team also allegedly tried to imply Pol Col Vachira's death was a set-up murder.
Pol Lt Gen Trairong Phewpan, commissioner of the Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation, said on Monday the searches were part of an expanded investigation into online gambling sites.
In the expanded probe, police found 23 people, including eight police officers, from the rank of police major general to police colonel, were allegedly involved and issued the warrants.
He said police had had no idea a senior police officer stayed at one of the targets of the raid because the house was registered to a civilian. He insisted it was not an attempt to discredit Pol Gen Surachate.
Pol Lt Gen Trairong said there was no evidence linking the gambling sites to Pol Gen Surachate at this investigation stage, but the probe would continue.
Eight police officers were under Pol Gen Surachate's command, and they included Pol Maj Gen Namkiat Theerarotjanaphong, attached to the Metropolitan Police Bureau, Pol Col Khemarin Pisamai, chief of the Chanthaburi immigration police and Pol Col Pakpoom Pisamai, deputy chief Provincial Police Region 4.
Pol Gen Surachate on Monday questioned whether the search warrant was issued properly because it did not specify his name while pointing out that it was an attempt to discredit him.
"We must admit that there is a power struggle in the police force, and the operation is aimed to be discrediting," he said, adding that he did not know who ordered the search.
Pol Gen Surachate said police implicated in illegal gambling websites would have to fight the charges and prove their innocence and insisted he had nothing to do with illegal activities.
But he said he had confidence in his men but added that they must be subject to criminal action if an investigation found they had committed a crime.
Surachate: Not happy with raid
Pol Gen Damrongsak denied that the house search had anything to do with the selection of the new police chief, saying that there was no link between Po Gen Surachate and the illegal websites.
Mr Srettha said on Monday a panel would be set up to investigate the matter after several police were accused of being involved in illegal online gambling sites. He said he was unsure if the search of Pol Gen Surachate's house was related to the appointment of a new police chief.