Days after a Thai army sergeant killed 29 people after complaining that his commander had cheated him on a property loan, a lawyer said he was aware of hundreds of similar cases in the military.
The comment came as a defense official confirmed that two army officers had been demoted to inactive duty posts, but declined to say why. Thailand’s army chief on Tuesday said it would “look at the details” of the dispute that he alleged had caused Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma, 32, to go on a shooting spree.
Lawyer Atchariya Ruangrattanapong said he was compiling a list of soldiers who had made similar complaints about being caught up in shady loans or real estate deals with superior officers.
“There are plenty of cases at the moment,” he texted BenarNews on Thursday.
Atchariya also praised the military for transferring Col. Uthai Fangkratok and Lt. Col. Tee Permpol to “inactive duty” within the Second Army Region, which covers Thailand’s northeastern region where the rampage took place.
“Thank you commander of the Second Army Region for the actions after we exposed the scam,” he said in a Facebook post on the Help Crime Victims Club page.
A military spokesman confirmed the transfers of the two officers but withheld comment on what led to the action, referring further questions to the Royal Thai Army.
“The reported transfers are accurate but I can’t give details because it is an army matter,” spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich told BenarNews.
Two spokeswomen for the army declined to answer questions when BenarNews contacted them by phone on Thursday.
Last weekend’s shooting rampage in Nakhon Ratchasima, a city of 2.6 million people about 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Bangkok, shocked Thailand and has put a spotlight on its military, which is widely considered to be the most powerful institution next to the monarchy in the Buddhist-majority country.
The Thai armed forces have launched at least 18 coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former army chief of staff, led the last coup that toppled a civilian government in 2014.
Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth was killed by security forces on Sunday morning, ending a 17-hour stand-off at the Terminal 21 shopping center in Nakhon Ratchasima. Officials said he killed 29 people in all during his rampage across the city, including his commanding officer, civilians and police while injuring 58 others.
His first two victims, Col. Anantharot Krasae and Anantharot’s mother-in-law, Anong Mitrchan, had met with him on Saturday to discuss his concerns about the loan, when a heated argument ensued and Jakrapanth opened fire on them, according to reports.
Anantharot’s widow, Pornlaphat Mitrchan, said her husband never bullied Jakrapanth and had nothing to do with the loan, The New York Times reported.
“My husband was a very kind guy,” she said. “You can ask his subordinates.”
‘Hundreds’ allege scams
Atchariya, the attorney, previously told the Reuters news service that he had been approached by 20 members of Jakrapanth’s unit with similar complaints.
“Apart from this group, I have been informed that there are hundreds of other soldiers who were scammed in a similar situation,” Atchariya told Reuters.
On Tuesday, Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, Thailand’s army chief, apologized to the nation for Jakrapanth’s rampage.
He said Jakrapanth was angered over a bad deal with a superior officer.
“The perpetrator did not receive justice from his superior and his family over a land-purchase deal. We will take a look at the details. When the promise was broken, that motivated him to carry out this rampage,” Apirat said.
The general also vowed to investigate and bring to an end shady deals involving military officers and their subordinates.
“There are many projects among army personnel who collaborate with businessmen including real estate and loan sharking businesses. I know that and there will be generals down to colonels who will go jobless this month and in the coming months,” Apirat said.
In addition, the military announced plans to set up a direct line to allow soldiers to call in if they believed they were being exploited by superior officers. It said the complaints would be forwarded directly to Apirat.
Meanwhile, a former military leader said officers could be involved in business enterprises, but there must be no conflicts of interest.
“They can be in any business, but they cannot deal with their subordinates. They can’t make their troops their customers,” retired Lt. Gen. Pongsakorn Rodchomphu told BenarNews.
According to another observer who is a professor at Thammasat University, military leaders in Thailand are exploiting their subordinates.
“As far as I can see, the military is like an empire,” Anusorn Unno, a lecturer and dean of sociology and anthropology at the campus in Bangkok, told BenarNews. “The chain of command disallows subordinates to appeal anything. The resources are used in an opaque way, vastly exploited.”
He also called for the military to allow more public access.
“There must be transparency to fix the problem. There are many secret budgets. Budget allocations should be open to the public, like other government units,” he said.
In an editorial, the Bangkok Post echoed Anusorn’s call for changes, including allowing for external audits. The 2018 Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act allows for internal audits of military spending, but “not many people are really convinced that the military’s self-regulation can ensure transparency.”
“For years, there have been allegations about unsound and fishy financial operations involving the military as a whole. Instead of being open to criticism and investigation, the military has always taken a defensive stance by slapping those daring to question its financial deals with legal action,” the Post said.
“Without allowing greater external audits, the army risks harboring more and more shady operations.”