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Army says it has strong evidence on general

Group rises to defend officer accused of extorting protection money in Silom area

The military's judge advocates yesterday expressed confidence that they have strong evidence against an Army major-general accused of extorting street vendors in the Patpong and Silom areas.

However, a group of vendors from the same area came out in his defence, saying that the military officer in question helped them negotiate with local mafia figures so that they did not have to pay protection money any more.

Lt-Colonel Burin Tongprapai, a judge advocate from the Army, said a military fact-finding team investigated the matter for some time before the major-general was arrested on Wednesday.

He said the officer was actually involved in extortion and the investigative team had evidence against him.

The officer, who has denied the charge, was handed over yesterday to officers from the Crime Suppression Division.

Pol Colonel Prasopchok Prommoon, deputy commander of the CSD, yesterday said the military officer in question would be tried in the Criminal Court, and not a martial court.

A group of vendors yesterday petitioned General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), at Government House. They submitted their petition to a Government House official and none of them would identify themselves.

A representative of the vendors yesterday said the major-general got involved in the negotiation process more than two months ago, at the request of the local street vendors. They said that they had been "oppressed" by mafia extortionists for 20 years before he intervened.

The vendors said they believed that the military officer in question was wrongly accused because the mafia extortionists were angry with him.

"In the past we had to pay a lot of protection money. After he intervened, we now no longer have to pay," said one of the vendors, who declined to be identified.

Another vendor in the area confirmed yesterday that the major-general helped negotiate with corrupt police officers so that the street vendors no longer had to pay regular bribes.

Arrested in seedy Patpong area

The officer was arrested by the military on Wednesday at a hotel near the seedy Patpong area and was charged with extorting money from street vendors. Four civilians accused of working with the military officer were also arrested along with him.

"He is the most senior member of the military ever arrested for extortion," Burin, who led the arrest, said.

"But he said he took money from traders to pay the owners of the copyrighted goods," according to Burin.

In a related development, Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Surasak Kanjanarat yesterday said all military officers involved in illegal activities would face legal action.

The NCPO will take decisive actions against anyone involved with mafia groups or "influential figures" involved in illegal activities, he said.


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