Thai author aims to reignite an investigation into 1946 death of King Ananda


By AGENCY

Kungwal Buddhivanid looks on before the hearing of his petition to revive the case of the death of King Ananda Mahidol or Rama VIII at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand on April 4. Photo: Reuters

A Thai court is holding hearings on a petition seeking to reopen one of the most controversial cases in the country's modern history, the death of King Ananda Mahidol who was found shot dead in his bedroom in 1946 at the age of 20.

King Ananda, also known as Rama VIII, reigned from 1935 to 1946, and was the uncle of the present Thai monarch Maha Vajiralongkorn and the elder brother of the last King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Ananda, who was found lying face up in bed with a gunshot wound in his head on June 9, 1946, was murdered, according to official investigations and three court verdicts that concluded in 1954.

Three palace officials were found guilty of being accessories to the king's murder and were executed in 1955. The three men pleaded not guilty and no one else stood trial.

Initial investigations by police blamed a plot led by Pridi Banomyong, who was the prime minister when the king died. Pridi went into exile and died in France in 1983, but he was later essentially exonerated by the government, which nominated him in 1997 to the Unesco millennium list of great personalities of the 20th century.

Hearings on the petition to reopen the case were held at the Bangkok criminal court on Thursday and Friday. It is the first time an attempt is being made to revive the investigation directly through a court order.

The petition was filed by Kungwal Buddhivanid, 62, a trained chemist and former business executive who in 2020 published a book challenging the official explanation that the king died from regicide. His book, published and distributed in Thailand, revived a previously dismissed possibility that the king shot himself.

Kungwal, who lives near Bangkok, said in court on Thursday that he could prove that the king’s gun, found next to his body was the weapon that killed him. The original 1940s investigators said the king’s gun was fired days before his death and that Ananda was killed with another gun that was never found.

"The old verdicts dismissed the idea of a suicide and ruled that it was regicide," Kungwal told the court.

"New evidence I bring will show differently," he said, referring to new findings that include ballistic tests he conducted in December with a retired police forensic expert that he says prove the king shot himself with his own gun.

Other findings include tests which disputed original investigation's conclusion that a bullet, found in a mattress in the king's bedroom, was planted, as well as new examinations, conducted last year by a forensic doctor, that Kungwal says prove the king shot himself.

Reuters did not view the test results and could not independently verify Kungwal's claims. Wasukit Thanurat, the forensic expert, and Krittin Meewuttisom, the forensic doctor, were not immediately available for comment, though both testified in court on Friday.

The four judges who presided over the hearing have scheduled May 3 for another session to question Kungwal before they send the case to the appeals court which will decide whether or not to reopen the case, said Kongsak Dejkoonmak, its presiding lawyer.

Over two dozen books have been written over the decades about the death of King Ananda, with several scholars challenging the official narrative on the grounds that the investigation was not transparent and was mired by the politics of the day.

Some of the books were published and distributed in Thailand, mostly in the 1970s, others were banned by the authorities. The South-East Asian country has a strict lese majeste law that prescribes up to 15 years jail for defaming or insulting the monarchy.

Kungwal petitioned the court last October to revive the case on behalf of the relatives of Chit Singhaseni, one of the palace officials executed.

Watsatarn Kittipinyo, Chit's granddaughter, was present in court on Thursday. She told Reuters that she has no expectations from the case other than a hope that her grandfather's name could be cleared.

Kungwal also told Reuters that he petitioned the palace for its view on reopening the case but received no response.

The palace did not respond to a request for comment. - Reuters

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