Speculation is rife that the transfer of the former Immigration Bureau boss ‘Big Joke’ was linked to a reported tussle with the former Police Commissioner over the ฿2.1 billion national biometric database system which the then-new broom at his department wanted to cancel because of price and the late installation of the facility. The former policeman, a popular household name in Thailand, appeared before the National Anti-Corruption Commission early last year amid a cloud of controversy and a bizarre incident related to shots being fired at a car he was driving in central Bangkok.

An order is said to be imminent transferring the former boss of the Immigration Bureau back to the Royal Thai Police from the Office of the Prime Minister. It is the latest twist in what has been, since the 5th April 2019, a mystery in limbo since the popular policeman, Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkarn was removed overnight from his post by the then National Police Commissioner Chakthip Chaijinda.

The reported imminent transfer of Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkparn from the Office of the Prime Minister to the Royal Thai Police will still, it seems, leave the mystery of his removal as Immigration Bureau boss on 5th April 2019 unanswered.

A source within the Royal Thai Police is suggesting that an order has been made to transfer the former Immigration Bureau Chief, Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkparn, back to the police force following an unprecedented Section 44 order made on the 9th April 2019 which moved one of the country’s best known and liked police officers from the police force to a post at the Office of the Prime Minister.

‘Big Joke’ was formerly the Chief of the Immigration Bureau until the 5th April 2019 when the then National Police Commissioner, General Chakthip Chaijinda, removed him without notice to an inactive post at police headquarters.

PM tangles with reporters on the issue as well as others this week including the cabinet reshuffle

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister dismissed reports from insistent journalists who questioned him on the new status of the former policeman. He appeared to reject a report that Police Lieutenant General Surachate is to return to the police force and an active role.

The PM, not known for his patience with reporters, appeared exasperated by their questions, this week, over a cabinet reshuffle necessitated by the jailing of three ministers by the Criminal Court at the end of February. 

On Tuesday, he walked from the lectern and sprayed the media posse with a disinfectant bottle.

Investigation into ‘Big Joke’ to continue says PM

He said that such a transfer may proceed but that an ongoing investigation into the policeman would continue and be overseen by the Royal Thai Police.

The Prime Minister said the probe was still incomplete and was subject to further enquiry.

No information as to the substance of the probe or the allegations against the former police officer has ever been put forward.

The government leader rejected any claims that the ongoing investigation was, in any way, linked to a legal dispute between the former National Police Commissioner General Chakthip as well as other officers of the police force and Police Lieutenant General Surachate.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said Big Joke case was ‘closed’ in April 2019

Since the senior police officer’s removal from his high profile post, it has been suggested that he was under investigation although, in 2019, this claim was rejected by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, then Vice-Chairman of the Police Board, who said any questions over the former officer and the reason for his transfer was a ‘case closed’ 10 days after ‘Big Joke’ was transferred to his new civilian role.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit was long considered a close ally and supporter of the trailblazing policeman who in his roles as Deputy Chief of the Tourist Police and Head of the Immigration Bureau, developed a reputation for tracking down bad guys and opposing corruption.

No reason for the removal of Police Lieutenant General Surachate has ever been given

No reason for the removal of ‘Big Joke’ has ever been given but it has been suggested it may be linked with a dispute between the former Head of the Immigration Bureau and his then-boss, the National Police Commissioner, Chakthip Chaijinda, over the installation of the country’s biometric database system, a cornerstone of the kingdom’s security policy in 2019.

Big Joke shooting controversy linked to the new ฿2.1 billion biometrics system

In January 2020, the former Immigration Bureau boss gave evidence along with up to a dozen other officers in an enquiry being carried out by the National Anti-Corruption Commission into the procurement of the system.

Then Immigration Bureau boss wanted to cancel the biometric system according to reports

The new Immigration Bureau boss is understood to have wanted to cancel the contract with a Thai firm acting as a partner for the German maker of the system over a range of issues relating to slow implementation of the rollout to price and effectiveness.

Bizarre series of events at the same time as the officer appeared before the Anti-Corruption Commission

At the same time as this, a bizarre incident in central Bangkok occurred in which a car, driven by Big Joke, was shot at.

The resultant investigation led to the removal of a senior police officer, Deputy Police Commissioner General Wirachai Songmetta from the force for refusing to carry out an order issued to him by the former National Police Commissioner General Chakthip.

Big Joke reprimanded and deputy national police chief removed 

At the same time, Police Lieutenant General Surachate also received an official reprimand from the Prime Minister’s office warning him to observe an appropriate code of conduct.

High flying officer toured Buddhist temples last year

Amid swirling rumours last year about his fate, the former high flying policeman visited several well known Buddhist temples and made no secret of his wish to resume his career as a policeman.

Administrative court legal proceedings issued in September 2020 against the PM by Big Joke

In September last year, lawyers acting on behalf of the police officer are understood to have issued legal proceedings against the Prime Minister at the Administrative Court questioning his removal from the police force in 2019. 

This was achieved using extraordinary powers granted to General Prayut Chan ocha under Section 44 in his role as Head of the National Council for Peace and Order or the former junta.

Former Immigration Bureau boss ‘Big Joke’ brings a case against the PM

In that suit, the policeman asked to be given a reason for his transfer out of the police force.

The Prime Minister, in September last year, ordered the legal proceedings before the court to be vigorously defended.

New order transferring ‘Big Joke’ back to the police

On Wednesday, a source at the Royal Thai Police explained that if the order signed by the Prime Minister’s Office transferring the policeman specifies that the investigation into Police Lieutenant General Surachate is to remain open, then he will be assigned to another inactive post.

The alternative and one that has been suggested by some sources is that the police officer will resume his career with his reputation intact and will also be in line for further promotion.

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Further reading:

Former Immigration Bureau boss ‘Big Joke’ to bring case against the PM to get his old job back after 2019 shunt

Big Joke heads to India to train as a monk after requesting work leave of absence until February 9th

Big Joke reprimanded and deputy national police chief removed on the Prime Minister’s orders this week

Big Joke shooting controversy linked to the new ฿2.1 billion biometrics immigration system contract

Police top brass leading a thorough investigation into gun attack on former top cop Big Joke’s car

‘Big Joke’ replaced by ‘Big Oud’ as Deputy PM says ‘case closed’ on departure from his previous role

‘Big Joke’ – Shock as Thailand’s best known and most high profile police officer removed abruptly from post