Ratchapakdi Park in CIB graft probe

Ratchapakdi Park in CIB graft probe

Lese majeste case army officers 'tied to scheme'

The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) has launched an investigation into possible irregularities in the army's one-billion-baht Ratchapakdi Park project.

The move comes after two army officers implicated in a high-profile lese majeste case were accused of graft in the scheme, said a highly-placed source in the Royal Thai Police.

The launch of the CIB probe comes after the investigation into lese majeste involving fortune-teller Suriyan "Mor Yong" Sucharitpolwong and his network widens.

Mr Suriyan has allegedly implicated two army officers, identified only as a major general and a colonel, during the police investigation. The case against Mr Suriyan centres on him and associates allegedly making false claims involving the monarchy to solicit money from business operators.

According to the source, CIB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nonghanpitak has instructed police investigators assigned to the lese majeste case to look for evidence of irregularities and corruption in the Ratchapakdi Park project.

Police officers from the Crime Suppression Division were sent yesterday to several provinces where the casting factories that built statues of Thailand's kings for the park are located, the source said.

The officers questioned the factory operators.

According to one factory operator, who asked not to be named, police questions included who contacted him to cast the statues, who paid him for the work, and if the actual payment and contract value were the same.

The Ratchapakdi Park investigation team includes Pol Col Prasert Pattanadee, acting commander of the Consumer Protection Crime Division; Pol Col Suthin Sappuang, acting chief of the National Resources and Environmental Crime division; and Pol Col Jirapop Puridech, superintendent attached to the Crime Suppression Division.

According to the source, the investigation will cover the entire project. The unnamed duo is accused of irregularities in both the construction of the park and the making of the statues of seven former kings featured at the park.

Ratchapakdi Park, a project to honour past Thai monarchs, is located on 222 rai in an army compound near Klai Kangwon Palace and has become a new tourist attraction in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The park has also been mentioned in media reports regarding an alleged rift between army chief Theerachai Nakvanich and his predecessor Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, a deputy defence minister.

Gen Theerachai allegedly instructed army-run TV Channel 5 to suspend advertisements asking for donations to build the park. The project and advertisements were launched by Gen Udomdej.

In a related development, it is believed one of the two army officers in question has fled the country. The army colonel is said to have withdrawn 20 million baht from a bank and transferred the money to a woman in Chiang Mai.

There is evidence that Mr Suriyan set up a meeting with the army colonel at a Bangkok hotel where they discussed sponsorship for the "Bike For Mom" cycling event, the source said.

Police are expected to issue warrants for the army officers' arrests by next week.

An unverified document was shared online yesterday in which the head of the Thai-Myanmar local border committee sought cooperation from Myanmar authorities to deport an army colonel.

According to the letter, the deportation was for an officer who, without permission, crossed the Mae Hong Son border to Myanmar on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy police chief in charge of the lese majeste investigation, said yesterday the case against Mr Suriyan's network is more than 90% complete.

So far, police have lodged 13 charges against Mr Suriyan and his network while 20 more charges are being prepared after police complete the questioning of witnesses.

One of Mr Suriyan's alleged accomplices, Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapa, a computer crime officer, allegedly committed suicide while in custody.

Pol Lt Gen Srivara insisted he was misquoted in media reports that between 40 and 50 military major generals and colonels could be involved in the lese majeste case.

He also said the alleged involvement of the army major general and colonel in Mr Suriyan's network, which was published in the media, is not in the police investigation report.

Asked if he could verify if the two officers are "mentioned" but no wrongdoing has been established, Pol Lt Gen Srivara said he could not say because it would be published incorrectly.

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