Panel headed by former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Chanchao Chaiyanukit, also suggests that there may be 200 illegal gambling dens in Thailand including 47 in Bangkok. He calls for tighter coordination between agencies tasked with enforcing the law and further investigation into 10 senior police officers and officials who he found to have facilitated the illegal operations with up to ฿100 million in circulation.
Police moved on Thursday to arrest the gambling kingpin at the centre of the Covid-19 outbreak in Rayong in December as a government-ordered panel of enquiry reports on illegal gambling in the kingdom focusing on its links to corrupt police and officials.
Thai police arrested the boss of two major illegal gambling operations in Rayong which were shut down in December last after they were found to be at the centre of a major cluster of Covid-19 infection which eventually shut down the entire province and neighbouring Chonburi as the disease spread there in cases also linked to illegal betting dens.
On Thursday morning, officers from the Crime Suppression Division moved in with a warrant to detain Mr Somchai Jutikitdet also known as Longjoo Somchai after he was identified as the man behind the gambling network.
Arrest comes as panel files report with the PM
The arrest of Mr Somchai comes after a panel of enquiry established by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in January was given 30 days to report on the activities of gambling dens and the suspected involvement of police officers and officials.
Police chief removed up to a dozen officers
In January, the National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jangyodsuk, pursuing a zero-tolerance policy, had over a dozen officers removed from their positions.
These included the police chiefs of both Rayong and Chonburi provinces as well as senior officers in Bangkok where this network of gambling dens extended into underworld criminality.
Security guard at Rayong den died of Covid-19
The severity of the outbreak at the large gambling dens in Rayong can be seen from the fact that a 45-year-old security guard at one venue operated by Mr Somchai, died during the crackdown after being diagnosed with the virus.
The man with a history of diabetes, lost consciousness as friends frantically ferried him to hospital when he complained he could not breathe only hours after being told he had the disease.
Government determined to root out corruption
The panel was set up by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam at the PM’s request after he was forced to deny he was in any way linked with illegal gambling operations and expressed his abhorrence at officials who are corrupted to break the law.
‘We need to get rid of the bad eggs and unscrupulous state officials. The government will be right behind the efforts to root them out,’ Prime Minister Prayut said in early January.
Taken in for questioning at Provincial Police Region 2 headquarters, joined by General Suwat
After his arrest on Thursday, Mr Somchai was taken to the headquarters of Provincial Police Region 2 where the investigation team was joined by the National Police Commissioner, General Suwat Jangyodsuk, in interviewing the gambling boss.
It is understood the fact-finding government panel identified him as directly involved in the management of the two major gambling sites in Rayong.
These have now been demolished on orders from local officials.
Former Ministry of Justice official led the probe
The government panel was led by Chanchao Chaiyanukit, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice.
His investigation concluded that 10 senior police officers and officials were linked with the clandestine operation of casinos in Rayong, Chonburi and Bangkok.
The locations in Rayong had been raided by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and local officials in the province when they were closed in December leading to questions being asked of the local police chief.
Mr Chanchao’s report, which was officially due by February 12th, revealed that the casino operations had ฿100 million in circulation between them at any time.
Money laundering probes to follow with an estimate of up to 200 illegal gambling dens
He told the media that anti-money laundering provisions will be used against all those linked with the gambling dens.
He also suggested they will be arrested and further investigated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission who will particularly focus on corruption within government agencies and among senior officials.
Mr Chanchao estimated that there were 200 illegal gambling dens in the country and at least 47 in the Bangkok area.
He said this was only possible through lax police enforcement of the law and money laundering measures as well as a lack of coordination between government agencies.