Thai police to investigate deputy chief charged in online gambling case

Surachate Hakparn, who faces a criminal complaint linked to money laundering, was freed on bond.
Nontarat Phaicharoen
2024.04.03
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Thai police to investigate deputy chief charged in online gambling case Thai Deputy National Police Chief Surachate Hakparn speaks to reporters before entering the Criminal Court in Bangkok, Sept. 26, 2023.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

The Royal Thai Police announced Wednesday that it would form a committee to investigate Deputy National Police Chief Surachate Hakparn following his arrest for alleged money laundering linked to an online gambling network.

Gen. Kitrat Panphet, the acting national police chief, disclosed the decision about Gen. Surachate, who has been released on bond after turning himself in on Tuesday night, during a meeting with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin at Government House in Bangkok. 

“When the discipline department considers there is a reasonable suspicion of misconduct, it is the responsibility of the commander, which is me, to decide whether to form a committee to investigate the facts and give the investigated person a chance to explain. There won’t be an immediate suspension,” Kitrat told reporters. 

The acting chief said a fact-finding committee comprising officers of equivalent rank to Surachate would be established to investigate the allegations and determine potential further action. 

“If the investigation reveals wrongdoing, a disciplinary inquiry committee will be formed at another level. That stage will consider whether suspension, dismissal or provisional placement out of service is necessary,” Kitrat said. 

The investigation follows a criminal court’s approval on Tuesday of an arrest warrant against Surachate, which investigators from the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) had requested. Under the warrant, Surachate faces allegations of complicity and money laundering related to an online gambling network case. 

The criminal case will not be affected by the police internal investigation, according to officials.

After surrendering at the Tao Poon Police Station on Tuesday evening and being released on a 100,000 baht (U.S. $2,722) bond, Surachate maintained his innocence while promising to cooperate with the legal proceedings. 

“From now on, we will enter various judicial processes, investigations and ordering of cases. Therefore, today, I must use my right to fight the case,” he told reporters.

“As long as the judge has not pronounced a verdict, I am considered innocent. As long as the NACC has not indicated any wrongdoing, I am innocent. Today, the process has just begun with allegations. I have been bailed and will return to work as normal.” 

Srettha, the prime minister, said that all involved in the case would be treated fairly.

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Thai National Police Chief Gen. Torsak Sukvimol (left) and Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Surachate Hakparn hold a joint news conference in Bangkok, March 20, 2024. [Tananchai Keawsowattana – Thai News Pix/BenarNews]

Ongoing tensions

The investigation into Surachate is the latest development in ongoing tensions within the Royal Thai Police force, which escalated in September when his associates were raided and arrested by Lt. Gen. Traitrong Piewpan, then commander of the Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation. Traitrong said those actions were linked to the investigation of the gambling ring.

In March, Srettha ordered the temporary transfer of National Police Chief Gen. Torsak Sukvimol and Surachate to the Prime Minister’s Office, appointing Kitrat as the acting police chief while a committee investigated the internal dispute. 

In an attempt to show there was no rift between them following Srettha’s order, the two officers spoke to the media jointly at police headquarters. 

“People think police Gen. Surachate and I have issues, but as I’ve said from the start, we actually don’t have any problems with each other,” Torsak told reporters at the time.

For his part, Surachate said he was ready to be investigated. 

“If the prime minister issues an order, I must perform my duties because I am a permanent official and he is my superior. I’m ready. I see it as having no issues of winning or losing,” he said at the time.

The high-profile case has reignited calls for comprehensive police reforms in Thailand, with critics citing the alleged involvement of senior officers in illicit activities as a symptom of deep-rooted issues plaguing the force. 

“Regardless, police reform is necessary. Surachate may be guilty or not, no one knows, but it greatly shakes the credibility. We must focus on creating a strong mechanism for checks and balances, along with elevating ethical and disciplinary standards to restore the credibility of the police force,” said Worachat Awipan, a scholar at Payap University’s Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace Lab. 

Wilawan Watcharasakwej and Ruj Chuenban in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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