Fugitive Thai millionaire protests his innocence

Fugitive Thai millionaire protests his innocence

BANGKOK - A fugitive Thai millionaire wanted on charges including lest majeste broke cover to protest his innocence Sunday in a graft probe that seen dozens arrested and more sought.

Nopporn Suppipat denied police accusations that he helped orchestrate the kidnapping of a man who owed him money, and said he fled to Cambodia on November 30 after discovering he would be charged under the lese majeste law.

"I knew '112' would mean I wouldn't get bail... I couldn't take that risk," the 43-year-old told AFP in a phone interview from an undisclosed location early Sunday.

Section 112 of the criminal code covers lese majeste offences, and provides up to 15 years in prison on each count.

The comments from the energy tycoon -- ranked by Forbes magazine in 2013 as Thailand's 31st richest man -- are the latest twist in the corruption scandal centered on the Royal Thai Police.

Mr Nopporn is accused, among other things, of hiring three men using the now-banned surname 'Akkharapongpricha' in a criminal act. Police accuse him of hiring the Akkharapongprichas to kidnap his former business partner to force him to reduce a loan he owed.

But Mr Nopporn said in the interview the charges are false.

"On my mother's and father's and everyone I love's life, I had never met or heard of them until this happened," he said.

Instead he says he was engaged in a lengthy court dispute over money with the businessman, eventually enlisting the help of a senior army officer to help negotiate a final settlement. Mr Nopporn said the officer hired the Akkharapongprichas without his knowledge.

The energy tycoon added that he believed he was being targeted because he was perceived as being close to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, although he insisted he was not a supporter of the ousted ex-premier.

"People said the police believed I was close to Thaksin, and with that I knew I had to run," he said.

He said he had no intention of returning to Thailand any time soon because he believed he would be unable to get a fair hearing in the junta-led nation.

Junta spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said Sunday he could not comment on Nopporn's remarks as the case was still under investigation.

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