Srisuwan Janya, the country’s most prolific petitioner, has been arrested on a charge that he and two others tried to extort money from a senior civil servant in exchange for dropping a corruption allegation against him.
The arrest on Friday followed a sting operation at Mr Srisuwan’s house in Pathum Thani, police said. It followed a complaint lodged with the police Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) by Natthakit Khongthip, director-general of the Rice Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
Mr Natthakit backed up his complaint with a video that showed him handing 140,000 baht in cash to Mr Srisuwan and the other two suspects, police said.
Participating in the arrest were officers from the ACD along with the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, and National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
Also arrested were Yoswaris Chuklom, alias Jeng Dokjik, and Phimnattha Chiraphutthiphak. Mr Yoswaris heads a political movement calling itself Ruam Chai Rak Chat (United Love for the Nation). He is also a member of a civil servants’ working group appointed by Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, leader of the United Thai Nation Party (UTN). Ms Phimnattha is a former UTN election candidate, police said.
The three allegedly demanded a bribe of 3 million baht, later reduced to 1.5 million after negotiations. Mr Natthakit reportedly said he was confident he had done nothing wrong but agreed to pay the first instalment because he wanted to gather evidence to submit to police.
The three threatened Mr Natthakit, saying they had secured evidence to prove corruption in two projects under his care, police said.
After investigating Mr Natthakit’s complaint, police sought a warrant for the arrest of Mr Srisuwan and Ms Phimnattha for abetting Mr Yoswaris in misconduct. Mr Yoswaris faced an arrest warrant for bribery and malfeasance.
In Friday’s sting operation, Mr Natthakit had promised to hand Mr Srisuwan another 500,000 baht. When the promised cash was delivered to Mr Srisuwan’s house in Lam Luk Ka district, his wife was seen emerging from the house to collect the money bag, police said.
The police then identified themselves and began searching the house for cash and other evidence.
Mr Srisuwan subsequently grabbed the cash bag and ran off to throw it out of the house, before officers went to retrieve it and place him under arrest. His wife was also invited to come along for questioning.
“Trust Srisuwan, will you?” Mr Srisuwan said with a smile before getting into a police vehicle to be taken to a nearby police station for interrogation.
According to the police, shortly after Mr Srisuwan was detained, Mr Pirapan called Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew, deputy commissioner of the CIB, promising to take Mr Yoswaris and Ms Phimnattha to turn themselves in.
At around 4.20pm, officers from the Metropolitan Police Bureau and Dusit police station turned up at Government House to speak to Mr Yoswaris, who had come to meet Mr Pirapan there.
Before he was taken to meet the police, Mr Yoswaris said he still wasn’t aware of what what had happened to cause him to be arrested, but that he was confident he could explain later. (Story continues below)
Police gather in front of Srisuwan Janya's house in Pathum Thani. (Photo supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)
Mr Srisuwan, 55, has frequently been described by the media as “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief”.
Born in Phitsanulok province, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Maejo University, master’s degrees in political science from Ramkhamhaeng University and in environmental management from the National Institute for Development Administration, and a doctorate in public policy management from Kasem Bundit University.
After graduating, he joined an environmental group where he first made a name for himself by exposing industrial pollution in the Eastern Seaboard area. He later formed a group that called itself the Association for the Protection of the Constitution and started to train his sights on politicians and bureaucrats.
Since then, hundreds of petitions have followed, some of them resulting in court cases against high-profile political figures. Some critics have accused him of focussing most of his attention on opposition or anti-establishment figures, but Mr Srisuwan can point to many crusades against people on the government side.
When the National Council for Peace and Order was in power after the 2014 military coup, Mr Srisuwan filed numerous complaints against its members. In return, he was regularly summoned by the military for “attitude adjustment”.