Arrests linked to an extortion plot against a senior civil servant plunges Thai politics into turmoil, exposing connections to UTN candidates. The scandal promises aftershocks as the story unfolds.
Friday saw an earthquake in Thai politics when a scandal blew the ground under anti-corruption campaigner and constitutional activist Mr Srisuwan Janya. Following a dramatic police sting operation at the activist’s home where police claim he sought to dispose of hush money, there was further thrilling drama over at Government House where another suspect was understood to be attempting to meet Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga. Indeed, it was subsequently revealed that the deputy PM arranged for police to detain one of those wanted for the extortion of a civil servant, on the grounds of the seat of government.
Thailand’s political world was thrown into chaos and feverish speculation on Friday when police arrested the Chairman of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution Mr Srisuwan Janya at his home in Pathum Thani.
The dramatic arrest came simultaneously with a delivery of ฿500,00 in cash. The drop was contained in a bag which was accepted at the door by Mr Srisuwan’s wife.
In short, this was confirmed and witnessed by undercover police stationed outside the home.
Police reports confirm the constitutional activist tried to dispose of the ฿500,000 cash in hush money but was foiled as officers swooped into his home
Subsequently, police reports suggest that Mr Srisuwan attempted to throw a bag containing the cash off the property but was foiled by police who swooped in with speed. Both the political activist and his wife were detained at the scene.
Afterwards, Srisuwan put on a display of confidence from the press. With a pained smile, he invited them to believe in him as he was marched off by Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) officers.
Mr Srisuwan is an anti-corruption campaigner of long-standing.
Well-educated with a history as an environmentalist, he is known to be a stickler for adhering to constitutional provisions. In this role, he has more often attacked pro-democracy and progressive groups. However, he is also known as a thorn in the side of the establishment.
Srisuwan’s complaints often suited the agenda of the government of General Prayut Chan Ocha since the 2017 Constitution acts as a minefield for politicians
At the same time, during the premiership of General Prayut Chan Ocha, his complaints often coincided with the government’s agenda. This is understandable given the exacting nature of the 2017 Constitution. The charter is a minefield for politicians, in particular those with populist appeal.
Most especially, he is seen as a foe of the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the Shinawatra family. This is not surprising given the large role the family has played. The Shinawatra dynasty has dominated Thai politics over the past two decades.
Indeed, Mr Srisuwan was asked to provide further details on a complaint against Pheu Thai last year. It was filed with the Election Commission before the May 14th General Election.
Election Commission asks firebrand constitutional activist to submit further information on the continued basis for complaint against Pheu Thai
The day’s political drama included the arrest at Government House of an acolyte of Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhagate. Mr Pirapan is the leader of the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) or UTN Party.
Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan pulled away from the accused with links to the UTN party after police detained suspects on Friday. No one will be shielded
In effect, this is the party supported by ex-Prime Minister Prayut Chan Ocha before last May’s General Election. Indeed, Mr Pirapan was formerly a Secretary-general to General Prayut.
On Friday, even Mr Pirapan was adamant that the involvement of two party figures was a personal matter only.
Furthermore, he warned that if there was substance to the case against them, they should face the full rigour of the law.
Certainly, in relation to Mr Yosawis, a member of the party, he said he would not be shielded.
‘It’s not about the party,’ the Minister of Energy and Deputy Premier stressed to reporters.
It is understood that the two arrested besides Mr Srisuwan in connection with the extortion plot were former candidates of the UTN party.
Indeed, the third suspect in the case was appointed to an official role by Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan on Friday.
Ms Pimanattha Jiraputthiphak was identified by police as one of the group which attempted to extort the senior official.
On social media, however, Ms Pimanattha instead, heralded her appointment to a government oversight group by Mr Pirapan. When questioned by sceptical and confused members of the public, she said he was fighting the case.
Dramatic sting operation executed by undercover police in the Luk Ka area of Pathum Thani outside and later inside the home of activist Srisuwan Janya
The arrest of Mr Srisuwan, part of a sting operation, unfolded at his residence in Lam Luk Ka district, Pathum Thani.
In short, the case is linked to a complaint filed with police by a senior civil servant.
His name is Natthakit Khongthip, the Director-General of the Rice Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
Mr Natthakit claims an extortion attempt was made against him by two people who were formerly candidates with the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party in the May 14th General Election.
The duo were also linked to Mr Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution.
On Friday afternoon, initially, Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan issued a statement denying any links to the case.
He said that if the police claims proved to have substance then the party would cut ties with those involved.
The sequence of events leading up to Friday’s drama in Pathum Thani and Government House began with Mr Natthakit filing a complaint with the police Anti-Corruption Division (ACD).
In his complaint, the official alleged that Mr Srisuwan, along with two other people, attempted to extort money from him. The money was to be paid in exchange for dropping a corruption allegation.
Complaint filed by civil servant who collected evidence on the accused as he lulled them into a trap including a video showing him paying them ฿140,000
Mr Natthakit provided police with video evidence supporting his complaint. At length, he captured the moment he handed ฿140,000 in cash to Mr Srisuwan and the other two suspects.
The extortion attempt was made against the civil servant based on claims he acted corruptly relating to projects he supervised. The three accused said they had evidence with which to expose him.
Following the complaint to police by the civil servant, law enforcement officers from the ACD, Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, and National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) collaborated on the case. Afterwards, they decided to initiate the sting operation which went down on Friday afternoon.
Two individuals arrested alongside Mr Srisuwan Janya were identified as Mr Yoswaris Chuklom, alias Jeng Dokjik, and Ms Phimnattha Chiraphutthiphak.
Mr Yosawris leads a political movement called Ruam Chai Rak Chat (United Love for the Nation).
At the same time, he is part of a civil servants’ working group appointed by Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.
Indeed, on Friday, Mr Pirapan also appointed the third suspect, Ms Phimnattha, to the same body. She is a former election candidate associated with the United Thai Nation Party (UTN).
Trio initially tried to extort ฿3 million from Mr Natthakit
The trio allegedly demanded a bribe of ฿3 million from Mr Natthakit. After that, the amount was later negotiated down to ฿1.5 million.
The extortion target, Mr Natthakit, despite asserting his innocence, agreed to pay the initial instalment of the bribe to gather evidence for the police.
Based on the complaint and evidence presented by Mr Natthakit, police sought warrants for the arrest of Srisuwan Janya and Phimnattha Chiraphutthiphak for abetting Mr Yoswaris Chuklom in misconduct and malfeasance. An arrest warrant was issued for Yoswaris Chuklom on charges of bribery and malfeasance.
On Friday, the police, armed with warrants, initiated multiple operations to apprehend the suspects.
The sting operation in Pathum Thani that led to Mr Srisuan’s arrest was based allegedly on a promise made by the civil servant to the constitutional activist
The sting operation in Pathum Thani had its origin in a promise made by Mr Natthakit. He was to hand over an additional ฿500,000 to Mr Srisuwan.
In turn, the promised cash was delivered to the activist’s residence in Lam Luk Ka district on Friday. Srisuwan’s wife was observed collecting the money bag. This led to the identification of the residence by law enforcement.
The police then revealed their presence, identified themselves, and began searching the house for cash and additional evidence.
Mr Srisuwan, upon realising the police operation, attempted to grab the cash bag. However, the police apprehended him before he could dispose of the money. Srisuwan’s wife was also taken in for questioning at the scene.
Following the arrest, Mr Srisuwan asserted his innocence, expressing confidence and smiling. He remarked to the press: ‘Trust Srisuwan, will you?’ before being taken to a nearby police station for questioning. He is expected to face criminal charges.
In a statement to the press, Mr Srisuwan denied knowledge of any attempted extortion. He emphasised his dedication to fighting corruption.
Police sources suggest that Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan negotiated the surrender of one of the accused to waiting officers at Government House on Friday
Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, leader of the UTN Party, in the course of Friday’s drama, reached out to senior police officers from Government House.
Indeed, Mr Yoswaris was arrested by plainclothes police within its precincts at 4.20 pm.
Before this, police sources suggest that Deputy Prime Minister Pirapan called Police Major General Jaroonkiat Pankaew, deputy commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB). Afterwards, he promised that Mr Yoswaris and Ms Phimnattha would turn themselves in.
Police officers from the Metropolitan Police Bureau and Dusit Police Station, at the same time, were already at Government House.
They sought the arrest there of Mr Yoswaris. Afterwards, Mr Yowaris surrendered. He declared he was unaware of the reason for his arrest. In short, he expressed confidence in explaining the situation later.
The political operative was accompanied by officers to Dusit Police Station for questioning, emphasising his cooperative stance.
The events garnered significant media attention, with reporters present during the arrests and subsequent statements. The nation was gripped with dramatic TV reports.
Undoubtedly Friday’s development represents an earthquake in Thai politics. The unfolding scandal will have serious repercussions and lead to aftershocks. At least, they should, in a healthy, functioning democracy.