Ex-Senator vigorously denies any wrongdoing claiming that he acted to protect the children in his care by keeping them from danger by disciplining them. He also defends himself against charges of exploiting the minors through child labour by saying the work engaged in by the juveniles was voluntary to raise money for the charitable foundation and that they were paid. Another former Senate member said that Mr Montree, the accused, acted in the role of a father to the children in his care.
Former Thai Senator Montree Sinthawichai, who has given decades of his life to working with destitute children, continues to protest his innocence as, this week, a police task force overseen by Deputy National Police Chief General Surachate Hakparn confirmed that it would seek to have charges pursued against him after a criminal investigation was launched late last year when children were taken from his charitable foundation in Samut Songkhram province amid accusations of physical abuse and labour exploitation. The matter now rests with prosecutors.
A former Thai Senator and activist on behalf of disadvantaged children is reported to be facing the possibility of criminal charges in court after a police investigation into allegations against him.
This was revealed at a press conference on Wednesday given by Deputy National Police Chief General Surachate Hakparn who said that the investigation into the former senator and his foundation had been wrapped up with police recommending charges against him, his wife and the Children’s Protection Organisation in Samut Songkhram province.
The case file will now be forwarded to public prosecutors.
Former Senator and supporters refute any suggestion of wrongdoing in the affair which arose when a police complaint was filed in October 2022
It should be noted that the senator and those who support his mission and NGO vigorously deny any wrongdoing in the affair.
On October 29th last year, activists associated with the Zendai Foundation took away children under the care of 64-year-old Mr Montree Sinthawichai or ‘Khru Yun’, the Secretary-general of the Child Protection Foundation.
At the same time, they filed a police complaint in Samut Songkhram province against him with officers at Amphawa Police Station near the establishment.
The Zendai Foundation is a non-profit organisation that arose during the COVID-19 emergency and has won many admirers.
It works to empower vulnerable local communities in Thailand.
The foundation was co-founded by Mr Chris Potranandana, a former leading member of the Move Forward Party and its predecessor the Future Forward Party who resigned from that party before the General Election objecting to its centralised management and its ‘politburo’ selection of candidates for the recent poll.
Children say that they were beaten and forced to work at a holiday resort owned by the ex-senator’s wife after being taken into care by social services
The children, at the time, accused the 64 year-old former upper house member of physically abusing them and forcing them into working at a resort owned by the senator’s wife, 61-year-old Ms Phimol Sinthawichai.
Police investigated the foundation’s headquarters at Mr Montree’s home.
They were joined by officials with the provincial social security office as well as officers with the Anti-Trafficking Persons Division of the Royal Thai Police.
56 young people were found at the facility under 18 years of age.
Officials quickly deduced that eight showed signs of physical abuse and they were taken into care by child welfare services.
Later, the investigation revealed that 33 of the children had been allegedly subjected to abuse at the hands of Mr Montree as well as being forced into working at the resort owned by his wife.
Accused paid children between ฿40 and ฿60 per day to work at the resort and claims the work was voluntary and part of the fundraising for the foundation
These are charges that Mr Montri and his wife categorically reject as untrue.
Authorities discovered that the couple had paid wages to children under 15 years of age amounting to ฿40 to ฿60 per day for working at the facility including chores such as changing bed sheets and cleaning.
A probe of the finances of the former senator was also undertaken.
He faces charges on several offences including exploiting the children for his own benefit and being involved in forced child labour He also is facing charges linked to the physical assault of the children.
His wife is also reported to be facing charges linked to offences relating to the use of underage labour at her resort.
It also came to light that, on March 28th last, the foundation had set up donation boxes at more than 200 locations in the region seeking public support for the childcare foundation and its mission without seeking or obtaining the required permission from authorities.
Mr Montree for decades hailed as a Thai hero
The 64-year-old Mr Montree has, for decades, been hailed as a hero in Thailand for his work with children and those at the bottom of Thai society.
The former senator took up his calling just after graduating from Srinakharinwirot University when he began helping street children in Bangkok’s notorious Sanam Luang district, many of them from broken homes who had been lured into prostitution.
His initial efforts involved giving the children lessons and food in order to survive.
He was later a founding member of Thailand’s first shelter for abused children.
His work quickly led him to acclaim and in 2001, he was elected a senator for Samut Songkhram province, on the Bay of Bangkok, to the west of the metropolis.
The former senator has stoutly defended his actions and those of his wife after the police investigation was launched last year and he was summoned to give evidence.
Accused man admits he had to discipline the children in his care to protect them from dangerous threats
In a December report for Thai PBS, he admitted that he had disciplined the children in his care but argued it was necessary.
‘I never tormented the children,’ Montree told reporters. ‘I only hit them as a punishment. For instance, some older children once took younger children to the river even when they could not swim. That’s too dangerous.’
His defence was taken up by another former Thai Senator and Chairman of the non-governmental organisations (NGO) at the centre of the case, the Child Protection Foundation, Ms Kaewsan Atibhoti.
She said, at the time, that none of the children were forced to work at the resort and had undertaken the work voluntarily because they could also receive tips from the guests.
Taken on the role of father to the children
She said the resort itself was a means of generating additional income for the work of the foundation and that her understanding was that none of the children showed evidence of a physical assault.
She hailed the commitment of Mr Montree to his long-held mission saying that he stood by the children in his care even when they were unruly and threatened to get out of hand.
‘He has taken up the role of a father. So, he thinks he can scold and cane them if they get out of hand,’ Ms Kaewsan explained.