6 June 2024

Thailand’s famous forensic pathologist has been on a rollercoaster ride over the past few decades, and though Dr Porntip Rojanasunan is now bracing for a downhill plunge, she is confident of rising back up again soon.

“I will definitely pull through if I’m patient. I greet every crisis as an opportunity for me,” Porntip said in a social media post the other day.

Last week, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) announced it was suing Porntip, former director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS), for her role in the institute’s procurement of GT200 bomb detectors, which were later found to be fake.

The Office of the Attorney-General had earlier ruled against indicting the celebrity forensic expert on grounds of weak evidence, but NACC believes she has a case to answer in court.

“I supported the procurement with the hope of protecting members of the forensic team who needed to go to the [insurgency-plagued deep] South,” Porntip said. “Even if it was a mistake, it was by no means corruption.”

The Thai government spent almost 1.4 billion baht on procuring the bogus bomb detectors between 2006 and 2010.

The GT200 was also defended by several other figures more powerful than Porntip, including then-Army chief Gen Anupong Poachinda, who now serves as interior minister.

Iron lady

Born in 1954, Porntip graduated from Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital in 1979. Five years later, she received a certificate in forensic pathology from the same institute.

Unlike many young women of her generation, Porntip did not hesitate to pursue a career in the grisly field of forensic pathology. Ten percent of the work requires performing autopsies on cadavers and the rest is related to testing human tissue in the laboratory.

Porntip said she eventually switched to performing only autopsies because she found work in the laboratory too stressful. She said that of the 50 lab tests she conducted each day, most confirmed that the patient had cancer.

“Autopsies, on the other hand, are fascinating because I like solving crimes,” she said.

In 1998, while she was still building her expertise in the field, a medical student was murdered. The shocking crime, in which the body of 23-year-old Jenjira Ploy-angunsri had been dismembered, required a thorough investigation.

NACC to indict Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan over GT-200 bomb detectors

Porntip jumped in to help with forensic tests. Thanks to her contribution, the case was successfully solved and the murderer – a medical student who was the victim’s boyfriend – offered a full confession on how the crime took place.

Her role in the high-profile case brought Porntip to the public’s notice. She began appearing in the media regularly and actively pushing to improve Thailand’s forensic system. However, she also made enemies. Many Thai police officers complained that she criticized their methods too harshly and often stole the limelight.

“Some people may think I’m an enemy of the police, but I have never hated them,” Porntip insisted.

Following the 1998 murder, the forensic pathologist would play a big role in many other high-profile cases, including another murder-dismembering in 2001, tests to identify tsunami victims in 2004, and the second autopsy on actress Pattaratida “Tangmo” Patcharawirapong, who fell from a boat last year.

While Porntip’s credentials are solid and her list of accolades runs long, she has also courted controversy. In 2013, the Medical Council punished her for violating medical ethics in her comments on the death of MP Hangthong Thammawattana.

Hangthong – who was then Bangkok MP – was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head at home in September 1999. After Porntip suggested that Hangthong may have been murdered, his younger brother – who was a prime suspect – hired foreign forensic experts to counter her claim.

Though the brother was formally indicted on murder charges in January 2004, he was acquitted in 2007 after the court found Porntip’s testimony insufficient proof a crime had been committed. The younger brother then filed a complaint of ethical misconduct against Porntip with the Medical Council of Thailand, which ordered she be placed on probation. In 2016, however, the Supreme Court dismissed his claims against her.

Cancer survivor

Porntip has never bowed to pressure – even from difficulties in her personal life. Having been diagnosed with three types of cancer – thyroid, colon and skin – she refused to complain, saying they taught her to efficiently manage stress, focus on what is meaningful and continue doing good.

She is married to Wichai Rojanasunan, who worked at the Siam Commercial Bank’s Ramathibodi Hospital branch. The couple has a daughter together.

By Thai PBS World