Torture death of drug suspect in Nakhon Sawan raises long-held suspicions on police corruption
High profile and wealthy former Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon is on the run as the police zero in on his wealth after a shocking video clip showing him torturing a 24-year-old drug suspect, arrested on August 5th last in Nakhon Sawan, blew up his attempts to weave a web of deceit and cover-up what the National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jangyodsuk has described as a serious criminal act when he was seen torturing the bound suspect by applying a plastic bag to the man’s head.
A manhunt is underway for the former police chief of Nakhon Sawan City, Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon, who is wanted on murder charges in relation to the death of a drug suspect on August 6th last following a torture session when a plastic bag was affixed over 24 year old Jeerapong Thanapat’s head on August 5th at the police station in the city. The atrocity was captured on a video clip shared widely online and has already led to warrants for the arrest of six other officers, four of whom are already in custody. The shocking incident will raise serious questions about corruption within the police force specifically related to drug dealing and the province of Nakhon Sawan after police, on Wednesday, found ฿100 million worth of luxury cars at the Bangkok home of the 39-year-old police officer who only graduated from the police academy in 2014. The case has stunned the Thai public and is certain to fuel long-held concerns about corruption in the police force in the province which was raised in parliament by the opposition last February.
There are fears that a senior police officer who was the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the Nakhon Sawan Provincial Court on Wednesday, in connection with the gruesome death under torture of a drug suspect in custody on Thursday 5th August last, may have already made his escape from the country.
It comes despite the Head of the Immigration Bureau, Police Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduang, on the same day, issuing an all-points bulletin in respect of Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon and up to 13 other officers who have been suspended from duty pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation from moving beyond the kingdom’s borders.
Immigration Bureau boss Police Lieutenant General Sompong Chingduang expresses anger at the clip
The Immigration Bureau boss used the occasion to voice his frustration at the horrendous crime that has come to light saying he was angered at what he saw and the damage that has been inflicted on the police force in Thailand.
The watch list included 6 other police officers who were the subject of arrest warrants issued by the Provincial Court along with their commander at the Muang Police Station in Nakhon Sawan.
Four were later reported to be already in custody.
The six officers have been named as Police Major Raveeroj Ditthong, Police Captain Songyot Khlainak, Police Lieutenant Thoranin Makwanna, Police Senior Sergeant Major Wisut Bunkhiew, Police Senior Sergeant Major Supakorn Nimchuen and Police Lieutenant Paweekorn Khammarieo.
Fears that the police colonel may attempt to flee into the Golden Triangle beyond Thailand’s borders
Details of the charges on the warrants issued by the court read ‘being an official in the performance of their duties or neglecting to perform their duties did wrongfully cause damage to another person, together with from five or more people to jointly kill others by torture or by acts of cruelty’.
The Immigration Bureau chief told reporters that while all cross border immigration stations were currently closed because of the COVID-19 crisis, his order instructs officers to particularly monitor natural crossing points and to be mindful of the suspects who are the subject of the order.
The news comes amid unconfirmed reports, on Tuesday night, that Police Colonel Thitisan had made his way to either Mae Sot near Western Thailand’s border with Myanmar or that he was heading to Chiang Saen in Chaing Rai, a key crossing point into the Golden Triangle on the Mekong River.
High powered police investigation into outrage being driven by Royal Thai Police top brass in Bangkok
There are also reports that the colonel may have been heading towards Uttaradit or Nan province when he disappeared after he was transferred to the Region 6 Operation Command Centre this week.
It is understood that the chief suspect was interviewed, at some point, by the Inspector General of the Royal Thai Police Visanu Prasattongosoth who was sent urgently by the police chief, General Suwat Jangyodsuk to Nakhon Sawan to begin investigating the outrage.
Serious crime committed in Nakhon Sawan, police commissioner confirms, after viewing the authentic video clip of the harrowing torture session
This came after the controversy blew up on Tuesday night when the National Police Commissioner made it clear that he was convinced that a video clip, which emerged on social media, was authentic and that he was of the opinion that a serious crime had been committed at the central police station in Nakhon Sawan, a province with 1 million inhabitants to the northwest of Bangkok with Nakhon Sawan City as its capital.
‘After seeing the clip, we believe they committed an offence. The clip is real. An order will be issued to dismiss them from the police force and a serious disciplinary investigation will be launched,’ the police commissioner told the press ‘Initially, we believe 13 policemen were involved and all of them will be charged as soon as possible.’
Prime Minister’s office expresses concern
This followed a message from the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday from General Prayut to the police chief indicating his concern over the reports and after it was understood that the Prime Minister himself had viewed the footage which has shocked the kingdom to its core.
‘The prime minister wants the national police chief to examine the clip and to give justice to the deceased,’ a spokesperson for the government leader told the press not long before the commissioner’s decisive statement.
Report of the incident filed with the police last Sunday, August 22nd after being raised by well-known lawyers
It is understood that reports of the atrocity reached the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police on Sunday last August 22nd after several well-known lawyers were contacted by sources believed to be junior police officers working at the Nakhon Sawan police station who let it be known that their knowledge of the incident put their lives in danger.
Well known lawyer, Decha Kittiwittayanan, had detailed an account of the incident on his Facebook page which generated public reaction which led to a formal complaint being filed last Sunday to police authorities.
This was followed by an order, on Monday, which announced the transfer of the officer concerned to a desk job at Provincial Police Region 6 headquarters while the Deputy Chief of Provincial Police Region 6, Police Colonel Narongsak Promtha, assumed command of the Mueang Nakhon Sawan Police Station in order to allow the investigation to take place without conflict.
Video footage viewed millions of times by the Thai public has sparked outrage and calls for justice
However, the situation changed dramatically on Tuesday when video footage of the incident in which the 24-year-old drug suspect Jeerapong Thanapat was seen handcuffed and tied to a chair with a plastic bag around his head and what appears to be the senior police officer wearing plastic forensic gloves applying plastic wrapping tightly to the man’s head without ventilation.
The disturbing video, with audio, captured the agony suffered by the small-time drug dealer as he went limp and silent even as the police team gathered around to torture him, applying a black hood and then later tried to revive him when he became inert.
Bent cop ordered the man’s body removed and cover-up, death to be treated as a drug overdose
After this, it is reported Police Colonel Thitisan ordered the man’s body to be removed to a local hospital in Nakhon Sawan and for the cause of death to be designated as a drug overdose.
It has emerged that a death certificate issued by Sawanpracharak Hospital listed the cause of death as ‘possible toxicity of amphetamine.’
Dr Sombat Wongkamhaeng is a member of the National Justice Administration Development Board and a former Secretary-general of the Lawyer’s Council.
He has noted that police will need to look carefully at the handling of the death of the suspect by medical professionals and the hospital which issued the death certificate for the victim in the case.
Legal expert concurs with charges brought against seven police officers including Colonel Thitisan
He was in agreement with the charges brought against the police officers on Wednesday and explained that based on a Supreme Court decision and a similar case from 2017, where a man was murdered with a plastic bag placed over his head and taped around his neck, Dika No. 5332/2560, that the torture of the victim by placing the bag over his head without air holes for breathing and fastening it in place could well be construed by a court as intentional murder notwithstanding claims by the police that they only intended to coerce the victim after setting out to extort money from him.
He noted that the difference between a conviction against the accused for causing death by inflicting bodily harm as opposed to a charge of intentional murder was a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment compared to the death penalty.
He also considered that the status of those who took part in the group action that resulted in the victim’s death will weigh heavily with the court as the police officers betrayed the trust placed in them and also acted as a group attempting to extort ill-gotten gains from the drug suspect.
Case highlights issue of police corruption in Thailand as officers confront violent protests on a daily basis in Bangkok, and caused severe reputational damage
The case has rocked public opinion in Thailand and is coming during a period of crisis in the country with the near-daily conflict between young people and police on the streets of Bangkok.
The current Prime Minister and National Police Commissioner, General Suwat Jangyodsuk are also committed to reforming the police force, a thorny and long-running political issue in the kingdom.
This story which has just broken is set to cause severe damage to the image of the force.
Top officer dispatched to ensure a thorough investigation of the atrocity in Nakhon Sawan
The police chief dispatched one of his top aides, General Suchart Thiraswasdi, to Nakhon Sawan on Tuesday to supervise the investigation as a manhunt has been launched for three of the officers against whom warrants were issued on Wednesday and have yet to be detained.
On the same day, police officers from Provincial Police Region 7 raided the luxury home of the mid-level policeman who was the commanding officer of the main police station in the city centre of Nakhon Sawan.
There, they found a luxury mansion with a swimming pool and house staff including two young Myanmar women and a security guard.
The staff told police that the master of the house only came home on the weekends to the property in the Klong Sam Wa district of northern Bangkok.
They said that he sometimes brought his girlfriend, reported to be the daughter of the commander of Provincial Police Region 6 who was Colonel Thitisan’s superior officer.
Police discovered 29 luxury cars at the property valued at ฿100 million.
Colonel Thitisan or ‘Ferrari Jo’ was a police officer for seven years only graduating in 2014 but basked in the limelight from the beginning
Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon made news in 2014 when he proposed on bended knees in a choreographed publicity stunt to well known Thai actress Pitchanart ‘May’ Sakhakorn, a 40-year-old film star who played leading roles in six feature films, on several occasions.
These exploits were covered extensively on local Thai media while it was also reported that he was already married to the owner of a luxury car outlet in Nakhon Sawan, a claim he denied at the time, saying he had divorced the woman two years earlier.
Police Colonel Thitisan had only graduated from the Royal Police Cadet Academy the same year.
The relationship with the movie star broke down shortly after this.
Known then as ‘Sarawat Jo’ with the rank of Major, he was soon known as ‘Ferrari Jo’ due to his collection of luxury sports cars including, reputedly, a Lamborghini Aventador LP 720-450, the first one to be purchased in Thailand.
The car has a retail price of ฿20 million.
Arrest on August 5th on a Nakhon Sawan road led to extortion while police interrogated the drug suspect
The genesis of the story was the arrest, on Thursday the 5th of August, near a road on the way to Muang Nakhon Sawan, of 24-year-old drug dealer Jeerapong Thanapat and his wife after police found the couple carrying 100,000 methamphetamine pills.
It is understood that the interrogation of Mr Jeerapong occurred on the 5th of August in the early evening.
Police Colonel Thitisan was trying to extort money from the suspect who, it is reported, agreed to pay ฿1 million but the 39-year-old top cop, known as one of the leading policemen in the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, had demanded ฿2 million.
The younger drug suspect is seen on video begging for mercy before he expires and police later try to resuscitate him.
After his death, it is reported that Colonel Thitisan released the man’s wife while swearing her to secrecy.
He also appears to have made contact with the deceased man’s father, a former soldier.
Father of the victim embroiled in attempts by the police boss to cover up his crime and perpetuate a lie
Hours after the story broke, on Monday and Tuesday, Mr Jeerapong’s father was telling the press that the rumours swirling around the death of his son were not true and that, in fact, Police Colonel Thitisan had always been a true friend and willing to help his son.
The father told the press that he had seen how remorseful and upset the police officer was over the death of his son.
It is understood that the father had agreed to the cremation of the victim shortly after the now controversial death certificate was issued by the local hospital.
On Monday, Police Colonel Thitisan was still resolutely denying the reports circulating about the death of the drug suspect in custody fully supported by the man’s father who explained to the press that his son had underlying health problems such as diabetes and a heart complaint due to the fact that he was overweight and also smoked heavily.
In support of his story, Police Colonel Thitisan told the press that the controversy over the young man’s death was linked to a lack of procedures on how to deal with medical emergencies when interrogating suspects.
Police colonel categorically denied extortion reports
He strenuously denied any suggestion that an attempt was made to extort money from the victim referring reporters back to the family who he said were aware of the drug suspect’s ill health.
Reports suggest that the mother of the victim objected to the hurried cremation of her son which was orchestrated by her husband.
Yet, in the video that emerged on Tuesday, with another video which has been viewed by the public in Thailand millions of times, it appears that Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon was remorseless in torturing the 24-year-old man and even failed to remove the plastic covering on his head as the victim collapsed motionless to the ground.
Sawanpracharak Hospital reveals new information on the death of the police suspect recorded on August 6th
On Wednesday, the Sawanpracharak Hospital issued a revealing statement in which it confirmed that the victim in the case was admitted to Prince Paknampo Hospital on August 5th at 7.20 pm but was not pronounced dead until 1.20 pm on August 6th.
The records indicated that the patient had collapsed and lost consciousness while running from the police.
After his death, the body was sent to Sawanpracharak Hospital’s forensic facility where an autopsy was carried out which did reveal levels of methamphetamine in the dead man’s bloodstream.
The hospital explained that the death certificate was issued swiftly to facilitate the man’s family and was issued by a doctor before the full autopsy report.
Police corruption and collusion in drug importation in Nakhon Sawan were raised in the Thai parliament
In February 2021, General Suwat Jangyodsuk ordered an enquiry into concerns raised by opposition benches in the Thai parliament during a censure motion brought against the government suggesting that a Lieutenant General of the Royal Thai Police and a Police Colonel in the province were complicit in the importation of 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine in October 2019.
Golden Triangle drugs threat aired in parliament, claims of senior police officers being involved in trafficking
The calls were accompanied by claims from lawmakers that some police officers in the province had close links with leading drug cartels operating within the Golden Triangle outside Thailand’s borders with Myanmar and Laos.
Top Thai drug suppression czar says notorious Asia Pacific drug syndicate could be about to fall after seizure
Two senior officers, Police General Manu Mekmok, the Chief of the National Command Centre for Combating Drugs (NCCD) and Police Lieutenant General Montri Yimyaem, Head of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) were tasked with carrying out the investigation and to report their findings to the police commissioner within a week.
Story complicated after a senior police officer filed a defamation complaint with CSD police over report
The story later became muddied when a senior officer, who had earlier been cleared by a panel investigating a previous allegation, filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division against a Facebook page claiming it had insinuated his involvement in malfeasance and nefarious activities in the province.
It has been confirmed that the seven police officers named in the arrest warrants on Wednesday are facing charges of abuse of authority, coercion and murder through the use of torture under the Thai Criminal Code.
Full investigation of the finances of the police colonel who lived in luxury in the Ramintra area of Bangkok
Police who raided Colonel Thitisan’s home in the Ramintra area of Bangkok on Wednesday were also reported to be examining its contents for evidence including the 29 luxury cars found there to ascertain their ownership.
Moves are also underway to investigate the finances of Colonel Thitisan and all officers involved in the case.
The incident has caused a sensation in Thailand and may well be taken up by opposition parties in parliament who already this year raised the issue of police corruption and links with the drugs trade in Nakhon Sawan province.
Police Inspector General investigating the death certificate signed by a local hospital doctor
Reports from Nakhon Sawan on Wednesday suggested that Police General Visanu is particularly interested in the signed death certificate for the victim in the case.
However, the Sawanpracharak Hospital quickly issued a statement saying the death certificate suggesting the death was due to ‘possible toxicity of amphetamine’ was just an initial opinion given by a doctor and that the final cause of death must await the autopsy result.
No doubts that ‘evil conduct’ is involved
General Visanu, however, was in no doubt that what he was dealing with was the result of ‘evil conduct’ and made it clear that he was in no way playing down the serious nature of this case and its implications.
He vowed to hunt down all those involved and see them brought to justice.
He revealed that the police chief had instructed him, as Inspector General, to resolutely cut off ‘cancerous fingers’ within the force.