Police investigating human trafficking rings smuggling boat people into southern Thailand believe a major general was involved.
However, the army says none of its officers are directly linked to the illegal activities.
Evidence showing this unnamed military official's possible involvement in Rohingya trafficking was found during a raid at a suspect's home in Ranong's Muang district last Wednesday, a security source revealed Monday.
The evidence included four receipts for money transfers to a bank account belonging to the major general and a document with the bank account and the major general's name written on it, the same source said.
The trafficking of Rohingya and illegal migrant workers, from Ranong down to the southern border, has long been a very lucrative business because handsome bribes were paid to people in uniform, the source said.
"From Ranong down to Padang Besar [in the Sadao border district of Songkhla province], there are normally many police and military checkpoints, but the traffickers can always get the migrants through these checkpoints. Do you ever wonder why?" said the source.
"In this case, although police found evidence to prove the major general's involvement in trafficking, no one dares do anything with this suspect. Of course, you know who is in power. So, who wouldn't be afraid?" the source said.
- Earlier report: Key trafficking suspect Ko Tong surrenders
- See also: Malaysia calls foreign ministers' meeting
Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, deputy defence minister and army chief, said the army was ready to investigate even though it could not confirm who the suspect was.
Police say the evidence against an army major general came to light after the surrender of former Satun PAO president Patchuban "Ko Tong" Angchotipan on Monday. (Royal Thai Police photo)
The army last month transferred several military officials away from trafficking areas, though their suspected involvement in trafficking had yet to be proven, he said.
An informed source, meanwhile, said the major general in question had already been promoted to lieutenant general in last month's reshuffle.
Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said if police have evidence to prove the suspect's involvement in human trafficking, they can ask to detain and transfer the suspect for questioning.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha responded sharply to questions about the suspect, saying he had not received any report on this particular case yet, so the press had better give him the name of the suspect.
"Who is he? What is his name? Tell me. They [the army] have not reported to me. The army chief has already told those who were implicated in [the trafficking] that they would be investigated," he said.
Asked about his reported recent telephone conversations with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Gen Prayut said Mr Ban told him he wanted Thailand to bring the Rohingya matter before other Asean members to discuss how the grouping can contribute to solutions.
The premier also told Mr Ban that he agreed with him on every proposal made, but he wanted the UN to understand that Thailand has its own laws to follow, too, in dealing with Rohingya trafficking.
Asked if Myanmar had responded to the meeting invitation, Gen Prayut said as Myanmar had not turned down the invitation, it was apparent that the country agreed in principle to attend the meeting.
Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn, meanwhile, plans to visit Malaysia Wednesday and meet his counterpart for discussions on the Rohingya matter, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said.
In another development, Pajjuban Angchotiphan, known as Ko Tong, an ex-president of Satun's provincial administration organisation who is a key suspect in Rohingya trafficking in the South, turned himself in to police and denied the accusations against him.
National police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang said arrest warrants were now out for three more suspects.
The suspects are Pol Lt Col Chan U-thong, a senior police official with Khian Sa police station in Surat Thani; Pol Lt Narathorn Samphan, a deputy chief police investigator with Ranong's provincial police; and Thasanee Angchotiphan, Mr Pajjuban's wife.
Of the 65 suspects wanted by police in connection with Rohingya smuggling, 30 have been detained.