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Kamnan Poh's family may seek royal pardon, says his son, Minister Sonthaya

Somchai Khunpluem appears at the Criminal Court yesterday.

Somchai Khunpluem appears at the Criminal Court yesterday.

The Khunpluem family is considering whether to seek a royal pardon for its patriarch Somchai, Culture Minister Sonthaya Kunplome, Somchai's son, said yesterday.

Somchai has been detained since his arrest on Wednesday after years on the run following corruption and murder convictions.

Sonthaya said family members were in the process of making several major decisions regarding Somchai - better known as Kamnan Poh - including seeking a pardon from His Majesty the King. "We have talked about the legal steps involved and what is to be done," he said.

All convicts have the right to seek a royal pardon after their final verdicts are reached, according to Kobkiat Kasiwiwat, deputy director-general of the Corrections Department.

Regarding a possible request that Somchai be allowed to serve his time at Chon Buri Prison, in his hometown, Kobkiat said the Corrections Department is authorised to make such concessions only in cases where the convict does not have a serious illness requiring close medical attention. "Chon Buri Prison has no doctors," he said. Somchai, 76, was believed to be returning home from a hospital at the time of his arrest. Considered an influential figure in his heyday, Somchai yesterday admitted to being the same person convicted in a corruption case, subjecting him immediately to a five-year-and-four-month prison term, a Criminal Court hearing heard yesterday.

A coming session will soon hear from Somchai on whether he is the same person convicted and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for masterminding the murder of a fellow kamnan, Chief Justice Thawee Prajuablarb said. He presided over the session confirming Somchai's identity and finalising the prison term in the corruption case.

The two days Somchai has spent at Bangkok Remand Prison would be deducted from Somchai's full term. Under Corrections Department regulations, he will be moved to Bang Khwang maximum-security prison, as the former detention facility can only be used to house convicts serving combined sentences of less than 15 years.

In the coming session, an arrest warrant for Somchai will also be revoked, due to his apprehension. The number of days he is detained during that process will also be deducted from his 30-year term in the murder case, Thawee said. The chief justice explained that sick inmates are allowed to be transferred to another prison only when corrections officials agree and their recommendations are approved by the court that sentenced the inmate.

Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said a new identity card for a person named Kim sae Tang had been falsely issued to Somchai.

Winai Phonphal, an active kamnan who owned the black Lexus SUV Somchai was travelling in at the time of his arrest and who was also in vehicle, will likely be disciplined as a civilian official under the Interior Ministry's supervision, Charupong said.

While his status as an elderly inmate qualifies Somchai for a reduction in his prison term or a total pardon, Somchai must serve at least one-third of his term. Whether this one-third provision will apply to the five-years-and-four-month corruption sentence or the 30-year murder sentence will depend on which imprisonment term commences first, according to a senior Corrections Department official.

After serving one-third of the sentence, the remaining combined time must be no more than five years, said deputy director-general Kittiphat Dechaphahul. However, any convict can begin a process to seek a royal pardon once the conviction is finalised, either through a Supreme Court verdict, or when a fugitive convict is arrested and their identity confirmed.

Sonthaya said that during his father's seven-year run from the law, Somchai had contacted the family through social networks and Skype, and sometimes through Internet-based chat applications available on mobile phones. The minister said he had not visited his father, but would do so once he was free from his ministerial duties. "In the meantime, all legal proceedings regarding my father will carry on through normal steps," he added.

"No one earns a privilege or stays above the law or regulations - I'd like to stress that." He repeated a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, an influential party-list MP of the coalition-leading Pheu Thai Party, that Somchai's arrest would not affect his position as culture minister.

Despite Somchai's chronic diseases and advanced age, Sonthaya said the Khunpluem clan was not seeking Somchai's transfer to the provincial prison in Chon Buri, where Somchai and his family have long been based and where it established its political and business influence.

He said the clan celebrated Somchai's birthday in his absence on September 30 every year, which may have led to misunderstanding on the part of neighbours that Somchai showed up at the clan's family home regularly for the parties. "Also, my father never phoned in, as people are saying, but live footage of the birthday celebrations from inside the house and from the parties was always sent to my father to watch," Sonthaya said.

Suspension of prison term

Suspension of imprisonment is a new correctional method made possible under a 2010 justice ministerial regulation allowing inmates to be released before their term of imprisonment is complete. It is aimed at solving the prison overpopulation problem while giving prisoners an incentive to behave well.

Qualifications:

_ Inmates must be considered well behaved, industrious, or competent in their prison tasks; or have obtained an educational diploma through distance learning.

_ Inmates must have served no less than one-third of their combined prison terms.

_ Inmates sentenced to life imprisonment must have served no less than 10 years.

_ Old age can be a factor if the above conditions are met.




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