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Thai police expect more arrests over claimed ties to palace

October 28, 2015

BANGKOK (AP) — Police in Thailand announced Wednesday they are looking for more suspects in a case involving people who allegedly claimed connections to the country’s royal palace in order to enrich themselves.

National Police Chief Chakthip Chaijinda said more people than the three already detained are expected to be arrested in the case, which focuses on sponsorship of mass biking events arranged to honor the country’s king and queen.

A senior police officer, a prominent fortune-teller and his assistant were arrested earlier this month and charged with lese majeste — insulting the monarchy — for allegedly seeking kickbacks and other benefits in connection to the events.

The police officer, Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa, allegedly hanged himself last week while in military custody.

Details of many of the charges had leaked to the media over the past week. At a news conference, police displayed property seized from Prakrom, including luxury watches, custom-made guitars and guns. The seized items and other evidence suggested that the case goes beyond the allegations of corruption involving the “Bike for Mom” and “Bike for Dad” events, named for the country’s queen and king.

The case is similar to one late last year in which a high-ranking police officer, former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayaphan, and his accomplices were charged with lese majeste and found to be unusually wealthy. Pongpat and others were relatives of Princess Srirasmi — the then-consort of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn — who shortly afterward lost her royal title and separated from him.

Police suggested Wednesday that there was a link between the two cases, saying that some of the property found in Prakrom’s possession had belonged to Pongpat.

Police corruption is a long-standing problem in Thailand, but it rarely has involved charges of lese majeste, which is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. The military regime that ousted an elected civilian government last year has declared that defense of the monarchy is its priority, and it has vigorously pursued prosecutions under the law, trying such cases in military courts.

Thai politics for the past decade has been overshadowed by concerns about the eventual succession to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, who is 87 years old and ailing.

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