Thai Policeman Nicknamed ‘Jo Ferrari’ Surrenders over In-Custody Death

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2021-08-26
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Thai Policeman Nicknamed ‘Jo Ferrari’ Surrenders over In-Custody Death Thai police escort a former police officer, Thitisan Utthanaphon, who allegedly led the fatal torture of a suspect in custody, in Bangkok, Aug. 26, 2021.
[AP]

A Thai police station chief, who allegedly led his colleagues in the fatal torture of a suspected drug dealer, surrendered to his senior officer on Thursday after evading a two-day manhunt, police said.

Thitisan Utthanaphon, a former police colonel and chief of the Muang district police station, and six of his colleagues are charged with malfeasance and murder by means of torture after a video posted online Tuesday showed them allegedly putting a plastic bag on a suspect’s head and demanding a U.S. $60,700 bribe. The charges carry the death penalty.

Thailand’s main anti-corruption authority will also investigate the reported 230 million baht ($7.02 million) in assets owned by the former Muang station chief, who was nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” because of his love of luxury cars, officials said.

“I admit all the guilt and accept the consequences, whatever the ruling will be … But I did not mean to kill him,” Thitisan told reporters after his surrender, referring to Jirapong Tanapat, the 24-year-old suspect who died.

“It has nothing to do with money, I just did not want him to see my face,” he said, adding that the suspect was being interrogated because he repeatedly denied that he possessed 1 kilo of crystal meth and 20,000 pills of Yaba, or methamphetamine. 

When Thai news outlets questioned him about his wealth, Thitisan, who has been a policeman since 2004, insisted he was a clean public official.

“In my civil servant life, I have never been corrupt,” he said.

The 39-year-old former police colonel, who went into hiding in the southeastern Chon Buri province after the video went viral on social media, asked to surrender Wednesday night, said Police Maj. Gen. Ekarak Limsangkard, superintendent of Nakhon Sawan province where Muang is located.

Sittra Biabungkerd, a lawyer for the People’s Lawyers Foundation, a pro-bono group, had posted video clips of the alleged torture by Thitisan and his colleagues on its Facebook page Tuesday, after receiving them from a junior officer at the Muang police station, 155 miles north of Bangkok.

The lawyers group said it had received a petition from the junior officer who sent the video clips, asking that the Aug. 5 incident be exposed.

After the clips went viral on Tuesday, the national police chief suspended Titisam and launched a high-level investigation.

TH-POlice-video-pic.jpeg

A police officer holds a plastic bag over another man’s head, in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand, Aug. 5, 2021, in this still image obtained from a social media video. [You Tube/Sittra Lawyer/via Reuters]

Thitisan ‘confiscated 368 cars’

Former Pol. Col. Thitisan allegedly liked the high life.

When the Department of Investigation searched his luxury home in Bangkok on Wednesday, they found 13 cars parked on the 2-acre property. His home and the 13 cars alone are worth nearly $5 million, officials said.

But those were not the only cars Thitisan owns, investigators said. He possesses at least 29 cars, including a Lamborghini – the company he imported the Italian luxury sports car from did not pay duties on it and is on the hook for $1 million in fines, officials added.

Thitisan got a crash course in cars during his 2011-2017 stint in Narathiwat, a border province in the Deep South near Malaysia, where vehicles are smuggled in from across the frontier. Buying a car in Thailand is an expensive proposition because the country levies a huge tax on its purchase.

Thailand’s Customs director told local media on Thursday that Thitisan had confiscated 368 cars when stationed in Narathiwat. Customs auctioned 363 of those cars for $30.5 million, with 55 percent of the proceeds split in rewards for informants, impounding officials and others, according to Thai policy.

The Customs director did not divulge Thitisan’s share.

Meanwhile, the international watchdog group Human Rights Watch said the incident of torture in which Thitisan was allegedly involved was not an isolated one of its kind.

“Beginning in 2003 under then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thai police carried out a notorious ‘war on drugs’ that resulted in the deaths of at least 2,819 suspected drug traffickers, many of which appeared to be extrajudicial killings,” HRW said in a statement.

“The evident role of the police in yet another drug suspect killing should be a wake-up call for the Thai government to establish institutions that can independently investigate and prosecute police officers for wrongdoing,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch. 

For any hope of justice, Adam said, “a prosecution fully independent of the Thai police is needed.”

Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, southern Thailand, contributed to this report.

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