11 July 2024

Tharit Pengdit, controversial former chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), made headlines again last week when the Supreme Court issued a warrant for his arrest after he failed to attend the reading of a verdict in a criminal case against him.

Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban filed the case against Tharit and three other DSI officers, accusing them of abuse of power and malfeasance for pressing murder charges against them over the crackdown on red-shirt protests in 2010.

The court issued the arrest warrant after Tharit asked for the verdict reading to be postponed on six occasions since December 2021, citing health reasons. His latest request, made just a day before the scheduled verdict reading on February 2, said he needed three more months for treatment of kidney disease. His lawyer informed the court that Tharit underwent an operation at Siriraj Hospital on January 29 and needed time to recover.

However, the Supreme Court found that the letter from Tharit’s doctor did not state that his condition was too serious for him to skip the verdict reading.

The court said the defendant’s multiple requests for postponement could be considered a delaying tactic to allow the defendant time to escape. It, therefore, issued a warrant for Tharit’s arrest to force him to attend the verdict reading on March 24.

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‘Going with the flow’

Tharit, 64, served as the DSI director-general from October 2009 to May 2014. He was removed from office just two days after the military coup on May 22, 2014.

While working under Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat-led government, Tharit was appointed to the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation set up to deal with massive red-shirt protests in 2010. He worked closely with its team of spokespeople in making allegations of armed violence and lese majeste against the protesters. The DSI later brought terrorism cases against the protest leaders, sparking anger among red-shirt activists.

After their favored Pheu Thai Party came to power, the red shirts called for Tharit’s removal from office. But the DSI chief managed to secure his seat by enthusiastically serving the new government of Yingluck Shinawatra, while taking legal action against his former bosses from the Democrat Party. Under his leadership, the DSI opened a series of cases against Democrat ministers, including prosecuting Abhisit and Suthep on murder charges.

Critics called him a “chameleon” for going with the flow after the change of government, but Tharit argued that he was merely doing his duty in line with state policies.

In September 2013, Yingluck’s Cabinet extended Tharit’s four-year term for another year, in a move critics called a “political reward”. But his extended term was shortened by the post-coup junta, which ordered Tharit’s transfer to an inactive post at the Prime Minister’s Office just two days after the power seizure.

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Facing 26 criminal cases

A string of criminal cases – at least 26 – were subsequently filed against him, mostly involving malfeasance, dereliction of duty, and defamation.

In 2015, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) confiscated 90.2 million baht of his assets found to be ill-gotten. A year later, the NACC indicted him for being “unusually wealthy” – a euphemism for corruption – and requested a court order for the seizure of 346.6 million baht in assets belonging to him and his wife.

Tharit argued that the money came from business deals and stock trading which the anti-graft agency had failed to take into account.

A few months after the NACC’s indictment, the PM’s Office in April 2017 dismissed Tharit from the civil service.

He later appealed to the Administrative Court, asking for the NACC indictment and his dismissal to be lifted. But in March last year the court rejected his petition on grounds that his wrongdoing was serious.

In July 2019, Tharit was stripped of his royal decorations following his conviction and imprisonment in two criminal cases.

In the case filed by Abhisit and Suthep, the Criminal Court in September 2018 found Tharit and his co-defendants not guilty of unfairly bringing criminal charges against the plaintiffs.

However, the Appeals Court in March 2020 overturned that ruling and sentenced each of the four defendants to two years in prison.

Tharit appealed to the Supreme Court, which scheduled December 16, 2021 for its verdict reading. The court postponed the reading six times at Tharit’s request but refused to grant a seventh deferral.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk