POLICE have cracked down on an extortion gang allegedly led by senior military and police officers, who abused their positions of power and influence to take Chinese businessmen hostage and demand ransoms.
Key members of the gang are high-ranking security officials, including Maj-General Charoon Ampa, who works at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, and Pol Lt-Colonel Nattakrit Yuttaya.
The gang was exposed after the Chinese owner of Kanta Group Thailand Co Ltd, known as Surachai sae Yang, lodged a complaint with authorities that the gang raided his firm on July 14 and forced him to pay Bt2-million protection money.
“The initial demand was Bt20 million but the amount came down following negotiations,” Pol Maj-General Surachet Hakpan, who heads the police force’s Patrol and Special Operation Division, said yesterday.
According to Surachet, Pol Lt-Colonel Nattakrit claimed to have been a member of the special patrol division, widely known locally as 191 Police, when raiding the firm on July 14 with eight other men. Nattakrit, who worked at the time for the Economic Crime Suppression Division, has now been suspended pending investigation.
“The men did not produce a search warrant but I let them in because they said they were officials who needed to conduct a search for the sake of national security,” Songsak Wirojthavornkij, the manager of Kanta Group Thailand, said about the events of July 14.
He added that once inside the firm, the powerfully built men removed hard disks linked to the company’s CCTV system.
“They then forced me and Surachai to meet their boss,” Songsak said.
The meeting took place at a school in Bangkok’s Don Muang district. The alleged boss is Maj-General Charoon of the supreme command office.
During the meeting, Songsak and Surachai were accused of using fake ID cards. Koh Teck Chuan, the only foreign suspect in the gang, then told Surachai in Chinese that his boss wanted Bt20 million as protection money. Nattakrit assured him the gang would not bother them again if they agreed to pay, he said.
Surachet said Surachai had negotiated the amount down to Bt2 million. The businessman duly paid Bt1 million on July 14 and another Bt1 million later.
A total of 10 suspects have been identified so far. Half of them worked in the police and military. The rest are civilians, including a Singaporean translator. Eight of them were arrested on Thursday and two civilian suspects remain on the run.
Of the arrested suspects, eight have already been released on bail. Only one civilian suspect, Opas Sriya, remains in custody because he could not come up with a Bt200,000 bond.
An informed source said the gang had apparently targeted Chinese businessmen. Since the arrest of the gang at least two other Chinese have come forward, also claiming to have been victims of the gang.
One of them said she had paid the gang Bt4 million in 2015 in the belief the gang would help her husband out of legal problems he faced concerning accusations of document forgery. The other paid Bt750,000 to the gang last year to grant him Thai nationality, which did not happen.
“Nattakrit’s position at the Economic Crime Suppression Division might have granted him access to the database of Chinese businessmen here. He might well have known who had not yet acquired all their necessary documents,” a source commented. National police commissioner Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said they definitely would not protect officials who had violated laws.
Published : August 11, 2017
By : KHANATHIT SRIHIRUNDAJ, SURIYA PATATHAYO THE NATION