11 July 2024

In a string of events straight out of a Hollywood crime thriller, former deputy commerce minister Banyin Tangpakorn now finds himself doomed  to death row after almost – but not quite – getting away with murder.

The Supreme Court recently upheld the death sentence against Banyin, now 61, for killing billionaire construction magnate Chuwong Sae Tang, who had long considered him a close friend.

Fatal friendship

Chuwong’s family didn’t suspect any foul play when Banyin claimed the wealthy businessman was killed when the car they were travelling in hit a tree on June 26, 2015.

Relatives recalled how Banyin, who had been driving the vehicle at the time, turned up at Chuwong’s funeral every day with a look of grief on his face.

They only sensed something was wrong after discovering that 268 million baht in Chuwong’s shares had been illegally transferred to Banyin just days before his death.

The shares were then deposited with two young women, one a product presenter and the other the mother of a female broker.

Banyin claimed Chuwong had conducted extramarital affairs with the two women, but an investigation indicated that they were actually in relationships with Banyin.

Data collected from Banyin’s smartphone signal, meanwhile, showed the car was only travelling at around 30 kilometers per hour at the time of the accident – too slow to have caused fatal injuries that included broken neck.

As investigators probed further, more evidence emerged that Banyin had plotted Chuwong’s murder to conceal his theft of the victim’s assets.

Unrepentant

Banyin showed no sign of shock on June 27 when the death sentence against him was confirmed.

Instead, he was even seen chuckling as the Supreme Court gave the final verdict.

His response sharply contrasted with Chuwong’s widow, who broke down in tears.

The ex-politician and former senior policeman listened to the verdict via a video link from Bang Kwang Central Prison in the northern suburbs of Bangkok.

Banyin has been held at the maximum-security facility ever since he plotted a jailbreak in 2020.

Investigators found he had arranged for a lawyer to post bail for another inmate who he tasked with staging his escape.

If the plot failed, plan B was to hold the prison chief’s wife hostage to negotiate for Banyin’s release.

Earlier in 2020, Banyin was arrested for kidnapping and murdering the brother of a female judge overseeing his case.

The kidnapping was meant to intimidate her into dismissing the charges.

Police apprehended the four men responsible and discovered they were acting on Banyin’s orders.

He was found guilty of masterminding the kidnap-murder and sentenced to death, a sentence that was upheld by the Court of Appeals in 2022.

Leaving behind police, political career

Banyin graduated from the Royal Police Cadet Academy and enjoyed a successful career in the force before switching professions.

He had risen to the rank of police lieutenant colonel when he decided to resign in 2000 and enter politics.

Banyin first entered Parliament as an MP of the Thai Rak Thai Party, before joining the Neutral Democratic Party and later Pheu Thai.

He was appointed deputy commerce minister in the Samak Sundaravej government.

He first met Chuwong while studying at the National Defence College, a well-known establishment for forging connections and influence.

Both moved on to the Capital Market Academy, forming a friendship so tight that Chuwong even trusted Banyin with some of his assets.

Wife killer?

When Chuwong’s murder hit the headlines, observers couldn’t help noticing similarities with the death of Banyin’s first wife, Rossarin Srinukul.

Rossarin was killed in 1991 when the car the couple was travelling in crashed.

Banyin told police that his wife was behind the wheel at the time of the crash, but her relatives said she did not even have a driving licence.

However, they had no evidence to prove that Banyin was responsible for the death.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk