Following police killing, Thai PM promises to purge mafia-type infiltration

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Following police killing, Thai PM promises to purge mafia-type infiltration Mourners attend the funeral for police Maj. Siwakorn Saibua at the Wat Phra Sri Mahathat Woramahawihan in Bangkok, Sept. 11, 2023.
Courtesy PoliceTV Facebook page

New Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin promised on Tuesday that his administration would purge Thailand’s police force of mafia-type infiltration amid a scandal where a senior policeman was gunned down during a dinner party at the home of a construction magnate-turned-politician.

Last week’s killing of police Maj. Siwakorn Saibua, 32, in a deadly shootout with the main suspect, and the arrest of a half-dozen police officers in connection with the case have grabbed headlines and shone a spotlight on corruption within the force’s rank-and-file.      

On Sept. 6, the gunman, identified as Thananchai Manmak, allegedly fired seven shots at Siwakorn, who died hours later at a hospital in Nakhon Pathom province, west of Bangkok. Investigators have not determined what led to the shooting.

Authorities reported that 27 other police officers were attending a party at the house of Praween Chanklai, a construction billionaire turned sub-district chief, when the highway patrol officer was shot. Local media reported that Praween (also known as Kamnan Nok) held parties at his home where he allegedly doled out bribes in return for his business being protected.

“We abhor the illegal power of tycoons or mafia or influential persons. People are highly concerned about it,” Srettha told reporters at Parliament on Tuesday, adding no one expected the officer to be shot.

“That’s unacceptable. Today, I pledge to eradicate such infiltration using my authority to prevent such crimes.” 

The prime minister, who was elected by MPs on Aug. 22 and took his oath before the king on Sept. 5, oversees the appointment of police commanders for the force of more than 200,000 officers.

Chada Thaiset, who serves under Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, has been assigned to oversee efforts to diminish the strength of tycoons and mafia-types across the nation.

Police escort

Following the shooting, fellow officers rushed Siwakorn to a Nakhon Pathom hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Another group of officers allegedly led a motorcade to escort Praween and Thananchai from the shooting site, according to CCTV footage circulated on the internet.

Thananchai was killed in a shootout with police commandos in Kanchanaburi province on Friday, according to authorities. Meanwhile, Praween surrendered to police and volunteered to be detained pending an investigation.  

Six officers who had attended the party have been detained pending an investigation into the aftermath of the shooting, including alleged efforts to assist Praween in destroying the CCTV footage and in fleeing the scene. 

The other officers have been removed from active duty, according to authorities. 

One officer was injured during the shooting and another officer, identified as a supervisor of Siwakorn, died on Monday. 

“Until now, all of those police officers haven’t answered questions honestly,” police Gen. Surachate Hakparn, a deputy chief of the national police bureau, told reporters on Tuesday. “Their subordinate was killed, but they not only haven’t told the truth – they defended the bad guys.”  

Surachate said the investigators have divided the officers at the party into three groups – those who took Siwakorn and the injured officer to the hospital, those who allegedly assisted Praween and Thananchai and those who fled the scene immediately after the shooting.

Investigators said they were searching for five civilian suspects as well.

In addition to investigating Praween’s alleged efforts to destroy the evidence, police are also probing anti-trust efforts tied to his business.

Praween built his construction empire, valued at more than 2 billion baht (U.S. $56 million) over five years.

“[W]e have traced all his transactions but we have to keep them confidential,” Surachate said Tuesday. 

The scandal is another blow to Thailand’s police force following last year’s conviction of “Jo Ferrari,” a renegade officer in Nakhon Sawan province, and five accomplices. They face life in prison for the August 2021 torture killing after trying to extort a bribe from a drug suspect.

Wilawan Watcharasakwej in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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