Anti-corruption campaigner wants the activities of the trading firm at the heart of the explosion last Saturday in Muno investigated by a high-powered police task force directed from Bangkok. He is concerned with a lack of licensing, safety standards and evidence of illegal activity supported by corrupt police officials and local politicians.

One of the country’s leading anti-corruption campaigners has called for a top-level police task force led by Deputy Police Chief General Surachate Hakparn to be appointed to probe the Muno fireworks explosion which killed 12 people in Narathiwat province on Saturday and devastated an entire community. Atchariya Ruangrattanapong believes that the company responsible for the explosion was engaged in cross-border smuggling and lacked the required permissions to handle the dangerous stock of fireworks, imported from China, which left the busy Muno market in Narathiwat and the surrounding area razed to the ground after the devastating blast.

Anti-corruption activist Atchariya Ruangrattanapong outlined his concerns to reporters on Thursday. He has called for a top-level police task force to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the Muno blast last Saturday in which 12 people died with 300 properties destroyed, together with people’s livelihoods in the Muno district of Narathiwat which he has linked with corruption and illegality.

One of the country’s leading anti-corruption campaigners is calling for Deputy National Police Chief General Surachate Hakparn to be sent to Narathiwat province to investigate circumstances surrounding the massive explosion on Saturday which killed 12 people and razed to the ground the settlement centred on the Muno market in the same district of the province.

The massive blast left 300 premises and homes destroyed.

It follows disciplinary moves, this week, by police authorities in Bangkok and Narathiwat against key members of the force serving in Muno based on suspicions raised by an extensive investigation into the blast that was ordered immediately on Saturday and matters relating to it which have come to light.

Crime and corruption activist points to a complete lack of administrative oversight and illegal activity linked with the site of the massive explosion

Mr Atchariya Ruangrattanapong, the president of the Crime Victims Assistance Club, who just last year, was involved in an extensive police corruption exposé in the same province, is ready to submit evidence to the National police authorities relating to police activities and governance to do with the fireworks warehouse which exploded on Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock.

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Mr Atchariya has particularly requested General Surachate to be appointed to investigate the matter following the success achieved by the senior police officer and ‘fix it’ point man in the last case.

‘Big Joke’ or General Surachate led last year’s successful inquiry into police corruption at the highest level in the southern province of Narathiwat

Earlier this year, General Surachate also known affectionately as ‘Big Joke’ led a task force dealing with police corruption in the province which saw the then provincial police chief removed from office and senior commanders facing charges.

In March 2023, General Surachate, as the leader of the high-powered fact-finding task force produced a report which upheld serious allegations against former Narathiwat police chief Major General Waesamae Salae with charges recommended against five people including three senior police officers linked to illegal activity including drug trafficking. 

The concerns in the Muno tragedy are thought to involve administrative deficiencies with five government agencies including the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Industry.

Dangerous fireworks being transported based on a photocopied permission that was out of date and repeatedly use when specific approvals were required

The anti-corruption campaigner questioned the administration of licensing laws dealing with the sale of fireworks that were stored at the Muno premises on Saturday when the calamitous explosion occurred.

This week, arrest warrants were issued for the owners of the property.

One of the facets of the case revealed on Thursday was that no permission to build the warehouse had been granted and it had not been subject to proper inspection as required under the law.

Atchariya said that the owners of the warehouse were involved in the transportation of fireworks and were found to be repeatedly using a photocopy of an original permission granted previously when in fact, specific permission to transport any dangerous cargo was required on each occasion.

He revealed that, in 2010, the provincial police had issued a letter to facilitate the transportation of fireworks to the owner of the warehouse.

Document showing the importation of fireworks from China but no declaration that taxes had been paid

This document suggested that the fireworks were imported from China via Lam Chebang port in Chonburi and the campaigner thought this situation was abnormal as there appeared to be a false declaration.

No import duty appeared to have been paid on the original cargo.

The activist also found that monies were being paid to the local police at Muno police station, varying in sums from ฿500 to ฿50,000 per month.

This allowed for the ongoing operations of the trading firm which included the sale of fireworks as well as the sale of illegal oil on which no tax was being paid.

Political figures supporting the operation

In effect, a substantial smuggling operation was being conducted according to the anti-corruption campaigner. 

Mr Atchariya said that he believed that there were political figures behind the operation in Narathiwat province and called for a fearless investigation into what was going on.

In this context, he referred to the successful task force led by General Surachate at the end of last year and up to March which resulted in a decisive outcome and the truth being revealed.

He said he wanted to see a similar result in an investigation into the current outrage.

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