BANGKOK (The Nation/Asia News Network): A police investigation panel on Thursday (Feb 2) charged six Bangkok police officers – two captains and four sergeants – with bribe-taking over 27,000 baht (RM3,500) allegedly extorted from a Taiwanese actress and her friends.
Maj-Gen Thiradej Thammasuthee, commander of the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s Investigation Division, said one of the seven initial suspects was cleared as he was not present when the bribe was allegedly demanded from actress Charlene and her group at a checkpoint in the early hours of Jan 5.
Senior Sgt Maj Atijvej Jullaphan had left to attend another incident, so the investigative panel cleared him of involvement, Thiradej said.
Ativej was among seven Huay Kwang policemen transferred on Monday after being identified as the ones who manned a temporary checkpoint in front of the Chinese Embassy on Ratchadaphisek Road where An’s group were stopped.
Police at the checkpoint are accused of taking a bribe of 27,000 baht in exchange for turning a blind eye to a vaping device An was carrying. Possession of a vape or e-cigarette is illegal in Thailand and carries a penalty of up to five years in jail.
The six police officers charged with breaking Section 149 of the Criminal Code were identified as:
– Captain Yodrit Langdulsen, deputy crime suppression inspector at Huay Kwang Police Station
– Captain Patiphan Sirichaiwatana, deputy administration inspector
– Senior Sgt-Major Krissada Khammana, crime suppression and prevention officer
– Sergeant Chalermchai Siriwangso, crime suppression and prevention officer
– Sergeant Watcharanon Khaoyong, crime suppression and prevention officer
– Sergeant Nanthawat Suwanna, crime suppression and prevention officer
After returning to Taiwan on January 5, An claimed on social media that Thai police had planted the vapes and extorted 27,000 baht.
Thai police initially dismissed the allegations and insisted the accused police officers were innocent.
However, the Metropolitan Police Bureau set up an initial fact-finding panel, which found evidence to back her allegations. The panel recommended that the accused officers be charged under Section 157 and subjected to a severe disciplinary probe.
Section 157 states: “Whoever, being an official, wrongfully exercises or does not exercise any of his functions to the injury of any person, or dishonestly exercises or omits to exercise any of his functions, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to 10 years and/or a fine of 2,000 to 20,000 baht.”
The panel's findings led to the formation of the investigative committee to bring formal charges.
The six accused officers were detained at the Investigation Division on Wednesday.
Thiradej said the suspects had confessed to demanding the bribe during the fact-finding panel’s probe before being formally interrogated by the investigative panel.
The suspects consulted their lawyers and changed their plea to innocent during the formal interrogation, he added.
“But police have enough evidence to press charges against them. Today, they were formally charged with violating Section 149 and 157,” he said.
Evidence against the six policemen includes footage from security cameras located close to the checkpoint.
Thiradej said the footage confirmed testimony from a Singaporean man in An’s group, identified as “Sky”, 29.
“Sky has also identified some of the policemen who [allegedly] demanded the bribe, he added.
On Wednesday, Sky talked to reporters at the Davis Bangkok Hotel of former politician and massage parlour tycoon Chuwit Kamolvisit to affirm the bribe allegations.
The Singaporean said police stopped their Grab taxi at the checkpoint and detained the group after “finding” three vaping devices. They then demanded 8,000 baht for each vaper and another 3,000 baht for Sky’s failure to show an entry visa, he said.
Sky alleged that police threatened to hold them in prison for two days if they refused to pay 27,000 baht.
Relatives and lawyers of the six policemen visited them in detention at the Investigation Division on Thursday.
Investigators will seek approval from the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases for their temporary detention pending further investigation before they are arraigned in court.