23 May 2024

Deputy National Police chief Pol General Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn sounds surprisingly cheerful given that his high-flying career has just plunged into another crisis.

It’s as if he were trying to prove he is the proverbial cat with nine lives.

“I wish everyone a safe return to their home provinces for happy meals with their family during Songkran … Happy Thai New Year,” he wrote recently on Facebook.

Last month, Surachate was transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister along with National Police chief Pol Gen Torsak Sukvimol after a dispute erupted between Thailand’s top two cops. The transfer order, signed by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin last month, declared that their hostility threatened to escalate and undermine public trust in the police force.


Turning point

The conflict has been escalating since last September when Torsak beat competition from the more senior Surachate (counting from the number of years since becoming a superintendent) to be named the new national police chief

Surachate had been a strong contender for the top post in the Royal Thai Police (RTP). But just days before the appointment was made, armed policemen raided Surachate’s house in Bangkok over online gambling allegations.

Many observers believe the raid was timed to shatter Surachate’s chance of rising to the top.


Once a shining star

Born to a junior policeman, Surachate grew up in the deep South province of Songkhla. As a teenager, he enrolled in the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School’s Class 31 where his name was inscribed on the school’s plaque for impeccable behavior and sports performances.

After graduating, he joined the Royal Police Cadet Academy’s (RPCA) Class 47. Surachate was the shining star of RPCA Class 47 alumni, rising quickly through the police ranks.

After being appointed deputy inspector at the age of just 24, he rose to inspector at 30, deputy superintendent at 34 and superintendent at 38. Aged 42, he became the deputy commander of Songkhla police.

He simultaneously led a forward command overseeing four insurgency-hit border districts, which earned him bonus years on his service record – a privilege preserved for officers in the insurgency-hit southern border provinces. The extra years of service helped secure his meteoric rise at a relatively young age.

Surachate had not even celebrated his 45th birthday when he won a promotion to the rank of major general. Then in 2018, at the age of 48, he was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed chief of the Immigration Bureau.

He also doubled as head of the Police Cyber Taskforce, handing him the authority to investigate cases across Thailand. High-profile cases and the press conferences that accompanied them saw Surachate quickly rise to national prominence.


Survivor of bitter crisis

His recent transfer, however, is not the first blow he has suffered. Surachate has experienced similar if not worse setbacks in his career before. Back in 2019, then-prime minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha not only removed him from his police role but also shunted Surachate from the force altogether, transferring him into the civil service.

Surachate filed a complaint against Prayut’s transfer order with the Central Administrative Court but lost the case. Many believed back then that his police career was over, but he defied expectations by returning to the RTP in grand style in 2021.

Three years ago, Surachate was appointed to a new post on the same level as assistant national police chief that seemed created especially for his return.

He managed to rebuild his police and public profile effectively and was promoted to the post of deputy national police chief, apparently on track for the top job. But disaster struck when he was implicated in an online gambling scandal.

On April 2, the Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Surachate over his alleged involvement in money laundering.

Not everyone thought this spelt the end of his career, however.

The president of the Inquiry Official Association of Thailand, Pol Maj-General Pairot Kuchiraphan, told reporters that he believed Surachate would restore his reputation and shine once more.

“I still think he has a chance of becoming the National Police chief,” he said.

Supporting that view is Surachate’s relatively young age.

Now 54, he still has six years ahead of him before his mandatory retirement from the force.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk