BANGKOK (AP) — A top Thai police officer and six colleagues have been arrested on serious charges ranging from bribery to insulting the monarchy, and police said Tuesday they are investigating more suspects in the high-profile scandal.
National Police Chief Somyot Pumpanmuang said at a news conference that the highest-ranking suspect, former Central Investigation Bureau chief Lt. Gen. Pongpat Chayapan, had confessed to all charges, including soliciting bribes for job appointments and allowing illegal gambling and oil smuggling. Police also issued arrest warrants for three civilians.
Somyot said a search of buildings belonging to the suspects arrested Sunday had turned up assets worth up to 10 billion baht ($305 million). He said the actual value was hard to assess because in addition to cash, gold and land deeds, the items found also included valuable Buddhist amulets and antiques.
The suspects are alleged to have invoked claims of links to the royal palace in carrying out their wrongdoing, but Somyot declined to elaborate on the charges of lese majeste — insulting the monarchy — which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Thailand's police department has a reputation as one of the country's most corrupt institutions, closely tied up in politics because of the opportunities for patronage. It has been seen as a power base of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and disrespect to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The army, aligned with Thaksin's opponents, in May toppled an elected government that had been headed by Thaksin's sister, and then purged some senior police officers.
The interim government headed by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has prioritized fighting corruption, but critics say its real goal is to cripple Thaksin's political machine, which has won every national election since 2001.
In addition to sensitivity over any matters linked to the monarchy, the case has caused unease because one suspect died before being charged. He, like the others, had been suddenly transferred to an inactive post earlier this month. Police insist his death was suicide by falling from a tall building, but his cremation almost immediately afterward raised suspicions of a cover-up.