Thailand Moves to Indict 72 in Human Trafficking Case

By Nasueroh
2015.07.24
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150724-TH-oag-620 Thai Office of the Attorney General spokesman Wanchai Roujanavong addresses a news conference in Bangkok about its recommendations that 72 people be indicted on human trafficking-related charges, July 24, 2015.
AFP

Thailand announced Friday that it would prosecute 72 suspects arrested in connection with a human trafficking scandal, including a three-star general who is an alleged kingpin of a transnational people-smuggling ring.

The announcement by the Thai Office of the Attorney General (OAG) came three days before the U.S. State Department was due to release its annual Trafficking in Human Persons Report, which ranks how countries worldwide perform in combatting people-smuggling syndicates.

Thai officials have said they expected the State Department to keep Thailand in Tier 3 – the lowest ranking on the TIP report that can trigger economic sanctions against a country.

OAG spokesman Wanchai Roujanavong told a news conference in Bangkok that state prosecutors had agreed to pursue charges against the 72. As many as 120 people, including four policemen, a mayor and deputy mayor, a village headman and seven local administrative officials, have been implicated in the case.

“On July 23, the Office of the Attorney General issued an order to indict 72 suspects on 16 charges and drop a case against one dead suspect,” Wanchai said.

Also on Friday, the Associated Press reported that Thai officials had arrested a Malaysian national and two Thai women in connection with a separate human trafficking case. The three are suspected of using Facebook to lure Thai women to work as prostitutes in Kuala Lumpur, the Associated Press reported.

The Malaysian – identified as Kheng Hsiang Low – and the two Thai women could be charged with human trafficking, forcing women into prostitution and being involved in a transnational crime network, the AP quoted Thai Police Lt. Col. Komvich Padhanarath as saying.

A second Malaysian is wanted in connection with the case. Over a five-year period, the syndicate trafficked six Thai women into Malaysia and forced them to be sex workers, he said.

Handle with care

Of the 120 suspects in total implicated in the larger human trafficking case, 32 – including 24 Thais, three Bangladeshis and five people from Myanmar – are on the run.

Fifteen other suspects are in custody but the attorney-general’s office still does not have enough evidence to indict them, and prosecutors recommended that investigators gather more evidence, according to Wanchai.

“We believed there are several more people involved in this case. The Office of the Attorney General gives top priority to the case, which involves foreign relationships and it took place in several areas beyond the borders,” he said.

The key charges include being involved in human trafficking, participating in a transnational criminal syndicate, bringing in and helping illegal migrants, and neglecting official duties.

AP on Friday quoted Deputy Police Chief Gen. Ek Angsananond as saying that the probe into the case was the “biggest into human trafficking” in Thai history.

Given the gravity of the case, the OAG would object to bail being granted to any of the suspects who were in custody, Wanchai said.

“Moreover, it involved several government officials and gangsters,” he added. “Therefore we need to handle it with care and be meticulous.”

The most prominent of the suspects who were to be charged was Royal Thai Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen, who denied any involvement with a transnational people-smuggling ring before he responded to a warrant for his arrest and turned himself into police in early June. Manas previously oversaw the army’s anti-human trafficking operations in southern Thailand.

Seeking extradition of foreign fugitives

The attorney general’s office was sending its recommendations to prosecutors in Nathawee district, in southern Songkhla province, and forwarding the case files to a court there that has jurisdiction over the case.

The human trafficking scandal emerged during a Thai crackdown on illegal immigration that was triggered in May, when the bodies of 32 suspected illegal migrants were discovered at traffickers’ camps abandoned in the jungle in Songkhla, near Thailand’s border with Malaysia. Southern Thailand has long been a transit point for Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar trying to make it to Malaysia by sea and land.

The crackdown also consisted of a Thai maritime blockade on people-smuggling boats in the Andaman Sea, which caused thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants – who had faced desperate conditions on the high seas – to come ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“For those fugitives who remain at-large abroad, the OAG will cooperate with the police to seek extradition according to extradition law,” Wanchai said.

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