Rajabhakti Park figure 'flees country'

Rajabhakti Park figure 'flees country'

An amulet trader accused of demanding millions of baht of commission fees during the construction of the Rajabhakti Park and its giant statues of former kings in Prachuap Khiri Khan has fled the country, police sources say.

The businessman is said to have left for Hong Kong on a Thai Airways International flight last Friday.

He allegedly fled about the same time an army colonel and an army major general were implicated by Suriyan "Mor Yong" Sucharitpolwong, a core suspect in a lese majeste case, who died last Saturday, allegedly due to a blood infection.

On Monday the Military Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Col Khachachart Boondee of the 3rd Army Region for lese majeste. Col Khachachart was linked to Suriyan's network.

The colonel is also suspected of involvement in graft in the army's billion-baht park project and is thought to have fled across the border into Myanmar via Tak's Mae Sot district early this month.

The following day Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr, who chaired the Rajabhakti Park Foundation when he was army chief, admitted an amulet trader cited "people in authority" to demand commission fees from owners of foundries contracted to cast statues of historical kings for Rajabhakti Park.

According to the sources, the Rajabhakti Park Foundation committee detected irregularities in August and launched an internal investigation which found the amulet trader made a deal with five foundries for 10% commission fees, or about 200 million baht in total.

The trader was also interviewed by the foundation over the commission fee allegation.

He volunteered to give 20 million baht of the fees to the foundation.

Deputy police spokesman Pol Maj Gen Piyapan Pingmuang said Wednesday the police investigation into Suriyan's criminal network has not expanded to the alleged irregularities in the construction of Rajabhakti Park.

He also said no complaint has so far been lodged with police over the alleged graft when asked if Gen Udomdej would be questioned over it.

Acting deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said one of the 16 lese majeste cases against Suriyan's network will be forwarded to national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda for review today.

If the case is completed, it will be forwarded to prosecutors.

He said there are now two suspects in the lese majeste cases -- Col Khachachart and Suriyan's close aide Jirawong Watthanathewasilp -- after Suriyan and his alleged associate Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapa died while in custody.

Meanwhile, the Corrections Department cancelled plans to allow reporters inside the temporary prison at the 11th Military Circle less than an hour after officials advised the reporters to lodge a formal request for a visit.

It was reported deputy justice permanent secretary Charnchao Chaiyanukij feared more requests for visits to the prison might be lodged, which could increase the risk of misreporting.

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