11 July 2024

Chaowalit Thongduang, aka “Sia Pang Nanode”, has topped Thailand’s most-wanted list since he escaped from hospital detention on October 22. However, instead of laying low, he has grabbed the nation’s attention with sensational allegations in video clips posted to social media over the past few weeks. The allegations targeted several high-ranking officials.

Celebrity astrologer Sinsair Keng calls Chaowalit a born leader who could have taken one of two paths in life: a high-flyer on the right side of the law, or an infamous gang leader. “His [astrological] chart has powerful stars, so he won’t die easily,” the fortune-teller predicted as he ruled out the possibility of the escaped convict being killed by police.

Patient escape

Chaowalit, 37, was catapulted into media spotlight by news that he had disappeared from a state-run hospital after being transferred there from prison.

He had initially sought dental treatment but was admitted to hospital after seemingly collapsing. However, instead of being transported back to Nakhon Si Thammarat Prison, his shackles were removed and he walked out of the hospital without being challenged.

A manhunt involving hundreds of police officers was launched to scour the Banthad mountains spanning the southern provinces of Phatthalung, Trang and Satun where Chaowalit is believed to be hiding.

They traced him to a mountain hideout in Trang on November 8 but he escaped after engaging police in a gun battle. Six weeks after he snuck out of the hospital, Thailand’s most-wanted is still on the run – and taunting authorities in the process.

Sources say more than 10 million baht in taxpayers’ money has already been spent on trying to recapture the “dangerous outlaw”, but to no avail.

Chaowalit recently issued several clips complaining about his “unfair treatment” at the hands of Thai justice. He claimed the court was wrong to hand him such a long jail term since his crime was one of compassion.

“I intended to go there and help a man. If someone else did that, he would have been considered a hero. So why am I being labelled a bad guy?” he snapped in one video clip.

Chaowalit was sentenced to 20 years and six months for attempting to pull his friend Sittidej Songdecha out of police detention in Phatthalung in 2019.

He  claimed he did not know Sittidej was being held by police at the time, as the man’s father and a public prosecutor had led him to believe that Sittidej had been kidnapped by a drug-trafficking gang.

He alleged that a public prosecutor and six other officials had conspired to extricate Sittidej from police custody. Judicial authorities counter that Chaowalit was given a long sentence in line with the law and his long criminal record.

Chaowalit is also awaiting trial on several other serious charges. For instance, he is accused of killing a policeman in January 2007. He is also accused of having a hand in two attempted murders in 2008. In 2009, he was charged with possessing war weapons and housebreaking.

In 2011, he was implicated in another murder. Six years later, he faced another murder charge.

Political ambitions

Chaowalit was a police informant who passed on information from his connections in the underworld, according to a former police station chief in Phatthalung. Back then, he owned and operated a well-known garage in the province, though he was also believed to be an illegal moneylender on the sidelines. Locals said Chaowalit was well-mannered and spoke politely, even with his henchmen, who allegedly sold drugs and arms.

In 2019, he ran for the provincial council in Phatthalung but failed to get elected. Sources say that Chaowalit made significant amounts of money and built an influential network of connections while he was in prison in his 20s. This was the reason why authorities sent him to a jail outside Phatthalung when he was sentenced last year.

Jailing him in neighboring Nakhon Si Thammarat would ensure he served out his term, they believed. It didn’t take long for Chaowalit to prove them wrong.

Authorities ‘ready to listen’

Vice Justice Minister Thanakrit Jit-areerat says the government is ready to listen to Chaowalit’s complaints and ensure justice is served for all sides.

“I believe he [Chaowalit] will finally surrender because we are in the process of addressing his complaints and requests,” Thanakrit said.

As well as making his case in social media clips, Chaowalit has also sent a petition to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin complaining about court bond rules, and alleging extortion by police, extortion and torture by prison officials, and corruption among public prosecutors.

So far, three prison wardens have been dismissed – pending investigations – for allegedly helping Chaowalit escape.

Thai PBS World’s General Desk