Tensions at the top of the Royal Thai Police linked to the removal last year of Immigration Bureau Chief Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkarn also known as ‘Big Joke’ rekindled on January 6th when the popular policeman’s car was shot at while he attended a masseuse in central Bangkok. This week, the national police chief moved against a deputy for disobeying an order in the aftermath of that shooting and Big Joke has been censured.
The former Immigration Bureau chief and now an advisor at the Prime Minister’s office, Lieutenant Surachate Hapkarn, received a written reprimand and warning on Friday from the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha drawing his attention to official codes of conduct expected from senior officials and warning him of disciplinary action. It came on the same day that the PM also endorsed the removal of the deputy national police chief, General Wirachai Songmetta, who was also moved to the Office of The Prime Minister and an inactive post after a panel to investigate him was established on Thursday.
The Thai prime minister on Friday made two moves which appeared to consolidate the position of the national police chief which was questioned by former immigration bureau boss Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkarn following a gun attack on his car on the night of the 6th January and the later failure by police to apprehend the culprits.
The moves on Friday saw veteran deputy national police chief Police General Wirachai Songmetta effectively removed from his position and transferred to an inactive post.
Big Joke warned to observe codes of conduct
At the same time, a letter was issued to the former high profile boss of the immigration police who now holds a position at the prime minister’s office, warning him about his future conduct.
The letter warned Lieutenant General Surachate that failure to observe standard codes of conduct for senior officials could lead to a disciplinary probe.
Tensions linked to anti-corruption commission probe
Following the attack on Lieutenant-General Suarachate’s car earlier this month, he came forward to link the attack to a probe by the National Anti Corruption Commission into the multi-billion baht contract to install the biometric system which the former high profile officer had wanted to cancel when he first took up his position as Immigration Bureau chief and prior to his removal from office and the police force in April 2019.
This issue reportedly led the popular policeman known as ‘Big Joke,’ who before the controversy experienced a dazzling rise through the ranks, into direct conflict with the National Police Chief General Chakthip Chaijinda within months of taking up office which culminated in his dismissal.
Following the attack on his car this month, Big Joke, for the first time, linked his removal from office last April to his opposition to the biometric contract.
Prior to that, his removal had remained unknown to the public except for intense speculation.
National police chief out of the country when Big Joke’s car was attacked – warned off his deputy
In the days after the attack on Big Joke’s car, General Chakthip was out of the country.
However, he did engage in a phone call with Police General Wirachai who had become involved with the case days after the shooting.
The police chief asked his deputy to withdraw from the matter and to leave it to the Metropolitan Police. The senior officer indicated that he did not want the situation receiving too much publicity.
However, within days of the call, General Wirachai was seen taking part in ballistics tests at police headquarters on Lieutenant General Surachate’s car and a tape recording of his call with his boss was leaked to the media.
Deputy police chief probed for disobeying an order
The reason given this week for General Wirachai’s removal was that he had defied a direct order from a superior officer. A panel was formed by the Royal Thai Police on Thursday to investigate the deputy national police chief in relation to the charges.
At the same time, General Chakthip removed his former deputy from a range of police operations including continued action against copyright infringement which was a special area of responsibility of General Wirachai.
National police chief’s position boosted this week with the arrest of the Lopburi killer
The decisive moves and backing of the Thai prime minister on Friday come in a week in which the national police chief has been credited with the arrest of the school director Prasittichai Khaokaew responsible for an outrageous shooting on January 9th in Lopburi at the Robinson Shopping Centre.
This case had become the focus of huge public attention and concern in Thailand. Announcing the arrest on Wednesday, the police chief was cheered and congratulated by the public.
Activists lawyer calls on corruption commission to call on the national police chief to give evidence
In the meantime, the National Anti Corruption Commission continues its investigation into the biometric system contract called for by lawyer-activist Sittra Biabangkerd.
Lieutenant General Surachate has already given evidence to the commission along with a number of other witnesses.
This week, the lawyer who has been associated with the former immigration chief, called on the anti-corruption commission to question the national police chief on the contract for the biometric system and another project to create high tech patrol cars to track down immigration offenders.