The high-rolling career of ‘Joe Ferrari’, top cop in corruption spotlight
The public is watching closely to see if the scandal over a drug suspect shown tortured to death at a police station will trigger reforms or merely deepen the flaws of the Royal Thai Police.
At the center of the scandal, which has made global headlines, is former rising star Thitisan Utthanaphon – a police colonel with a penchant for supercars. Dubbed “Jo Ferrari”, Thitisan is also frequently pictured with good-looking female celebrities on his arm.
On August 6, the death certificate of 24-year-old drug suspect Jirapong Tanapat recorded an amphetamine overdose as the likely cause of death.
No suspicions were aroused until lawyer Decha Kittivittayanan urged an investigation into reports that police officers in Nakhon Sawan had arrested Jirapong on August 5 before suffocating him to death at the station during an attempt to extort Bt2 million. Police had freed his alleged female accomplice in exchange for her promise to keep quiet about the killing, Decha told his 500,000 Facebook followers.
After the lawyer broke the story on August 22, fingers pointed to Thitisan, a police station chief in the province. He was quickly transferred to the Provincial Police Region 6.
Thitisan’s claims of innocence were backed by the dead suspect’s father, but suspicions of a coverup were growing.
A video clip released by lawyer Sittra Biabungkerd a few days later shed light on exactly what had taken place on August 5 in Mueang Nakhon Sawan Police Station. The clip showed Thitisan, in the presence of several police officers, restraining Jirapong and covering his head with plastic bags until he collapsed. Police officers then tried to resuscitate the suspect, but to no avail.
As soon as the clip was released, Thitisan disappeared.
In a twist to the scandal, Sittra hinted that fellow lawyer Decha had initially kept the clip secret so he could use it to extort Bt20 million from Thitisan. Decha is suing Sittra over the allegation.
Thanks to social media and a whistle blower, who leaked the chilling video of a group of police officers torturing a drug suspect to death, has triggered yet another public outcry against the authorities and a media storm over this blatantly horrendous act and the denial of the suspect’s right to prove his innocence in the justice system, or even to say goodbye to his loved ones.
What Thitisan says
After several days during which his movements are unknown, Thitisan contacted police on Wednesday night to surrender. The following day, National Police chief General Suwat Jangyodsuk hosted a press conference at which Thitisan spoke to media over the phone.
In the call, Thitisan admitted to covering the victim’s head with plastic bags but denied demanding money. He said he was only trying to get the suspect to reveal information on drug trafficking. He said the suspect’s head was covered with bags so he could not see Thitisan, and more bags were added after the suspect tried to tear them away.
Taking sole responsibility for this “interrogation method”, Thitisan said his subordinates had simply followed his orders. “I’m sorry, but I really didn’t intend to kill him,” he said.
Asked why he removed CCTV cameras from the room where the incident took place, Thitisan merely said he was inexperienced and had not been thinking clearly.
The interview was cut short by deputy National Police chief General Soochaad Teerasawad, who said reporters’ questions could hamper the ongoing investigation.
Life of luxury and pretty women
Raised in Bangkok, Thitisan studied at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School before becoming a cadet. He graduated from the Royal Police Cadet Academy in 2003 and rose through the ranks after joining the Narcotics Suppression Division.
His operations to seize hundreds of supercars reportedly earned him about Bt400 million. The seized luxury vehicles were auctioned off by the Customs Department for an estimated Bt1 billion.
Thitinan’s monthly salary is a meager Bt43,330, yet he is the proud owner of a luxury Bangkok mansion and a fleet of supercars including a 47-million-baht Lamborghini Aventador.
Late last year, the 41-year-old was promoted to the post of superintendent, putting him way ahead of his police school classmates.
Previously married to a wealthy woman, Thitisan has also dated a string of women from the entertainment industry including actress Pitchanart “May” Sakhakorn. He is currently in a relationship with TV host Pornpajee Sirisit, whose father is the incumbent chief of Provincial Police Region 6.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk