21 May 2024

Thailand’s justice system was forced to swing into damage control mode after a series of disclosures pointed to senior judges and police officers attempting to spare a senator prosecution for alleged drug trafficking and money laundering after the arrest of Myanmar arms dealer Tun Min Latt.

Supreme Court President Chotiwat Luengprasert has ordered an investigation into whether senior judges at the Criminal Court had abused their power to cancel the arrest warrant issued for Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun last year.

A fact-finding committee was set up recently to gather information from all relevant sources for the Supreme Court judge within 30 days, according to the Court of Justice’s spokesperson, Sorawit Limparangsri. The panel has no authority to interrogate any responsible persons in accordance with the penal code, he said.

The senator was accused of having engaged in business dealings with Tun Min Latt, who was arrested together with three Thai nationals last September and indicted in December for drug trafficking and money laundering.

Tun Min Latt is one of the cronies of Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, who brokered arms deals with China and Israel for the Myanmar military, also known as Tatmadaw, for a long time, according to human rights group Justice for Myanmar.

The Thai senator has been involved in many businesses with Tun Min Latt, including a casino resort in Tachilek in Myanmar under the name of Allure Group since 2000. Upakit declared that he had divested his stake in Allure Group and sold a hotel business for $8.15 million to one of his associates before joining the Senate in May 2019. The opposition has already lodged a petition with the anti-graft body accusing the senator of making a false asset declaration.

Upakit had admitted to the press that he had business dealings along the border with Tun, and he believed the Myanmar man was not involved in drug trafficking.

Upakit Pachariyangkun: Thai senator under scrutiny for Myanmar connections

Arrest warrant revoked

Rangsiman Rome, a member of the House of Representatives of the opposition Move Forward Party, who disclosed the close connection between the Thai senator and the Myanmar arms dealer during a general debate in the House of Representatives in February, stirred up a hornet’s nest on March 11 when he released a set of documents that showed senior judges had interfered in a plan to arrest Upakit.

A seven-page letter signed on March 5 by Phya Thai Police Station detective Pol. Lieutenant Colonel Manaphong Wongpiwat gave his account to a member of the Court of Justice Committee. The letter said that the Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant for the senator at 11am on October 3, 2022. The police officer and his team were reportedly called back to the Office of the Criminal Court a few hours later for a meeting with 10 senior judges.

One of the judges, who holds the position of deputy chief judge, reportedly tried to convince the police officer to request a termination of the warrant that had been issued.

“It would be illegal and against police discipline to ask for an arrest warrant in the morning and request its revocation in the afternoon, I can’t do that,” Manaphong said in his letter.  Finally, the arrest warrant for the senator was revoked by the chief judge. The police officer opined in his letter that the senator might not be prosecuted for the alleged crimes.

A leaked five-page official note from a deputy chief judge to the chief judge of the Criminal Court, and circulated in social media on March 14, said the decision to revoke the arrest warrant was made since it was issued against the regulations of the court.

Under the regulations, an arrest warrant for important persons, such as the prime minister, ministers and members of Parliament would be issued only after proper consultation with the chief and deputy chief judge of the court. The judge who issued the warrant in question never realized that the suspect was a serving senator, the note said.

Rangsiman said he would petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission to act against the senior judges who were involved in the termination of the arrest warrant.

Dubious links to Myanmar junta a blot on PM Prayut

Ex-police chief’s role

Lawyer Achariya Ruangratanapong, who was sued by the senator for defamation, told media that the senator’s legal team had cited former police chief Suwat Jangyodsuk as a witness in the case although he never mentioned or implied anything concerning the former police chief and doubted if he has any relations with the senator and Tun Min Latt’s case.

The lawyer also raised questions about the intention behind the transfer of police officers who were in charge of the Tun Min Latt case to other posts.

The senator filed a lawsuit for defamation against Achariya after the lawyer appealed in January to Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin and the Office of the Anti-Narcotics Board, calling on them to investigate Upakit’s money transactions. The lawyer accused the senator of being involved in money laundering related to the drug trade and illicit online gambling business.

Rangsiman told reporters that he had already submitted all the documents and evidence in his possession to the National Police chief and the Narcotics Suppression Bureau since the end of February but questioned why the case had been investigated at a slow pace. The opposition politician hinted that a retired police officer, whose name began with an “S”, had exercised his influence to interfere in the senator’s case, with the aim of getting him off the hook.

Tun Min Latt, 53, was arrested in the Thai capital Bangkok in a dawn raid last year along with three Thai nationals on charges of conspiracy to traffic narcotics and money laundering.

Following his arrest, Thai authorities seized assets worth $50 million, including real estate, cash, cars, and luxury watches. Thai police also discovered the title of a luxury condominium and bank account passbooks belonging to Min Aung Hlaing’s son Pyae Sone and daughter Khin Thiri Thet Mon during a raid on Tun Min Latt’s place on January 11.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk