Thai PM temporarily transfers national police chief, deputy to ensure fair probe

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai PM temporarily transfers national police chief, deputy to ensure fair probe Thai National Police Chief Pol. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol (left) and his deputy, Chief Pol. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, embrace after a press conference in Bangkok, March 20, 2024.
[Pirun Nanta/AP]

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Wednesday temporarily transferred the national police chief and his deputy to inactive advisory roles to ensure a smooth investigation into the latter’s alleged involvement with an illegal online gambling ring.

Srettha ordered Police Chief Gen. Torsak Sukvimol and Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Surachate Hakparn to be transferred to assist at the Prime Minister’s Office amid viral accounts of a deep conflict between the nation’s top two police officers.

Thais have little trust in their police because the cops are said to be extremely corrupt and very brutal while enjoying impunity for it, analysts have said.

Torsak was investigating Surakate’s alleged involvement in the gambling network that was linked to a raid on the deputy chief’s house in September. Some saw that search operation as an attempt to put Surakate out of the running for the post of national police chief.  

“There are various legal cases which must proceed fairly without interference,” Srettha told reporters.

“[T]o ensure smooth government operations and full public service without meddling in the judicial process, I have decided to temporarily transfer both to the Prime Minister’s Office for a period of 60 days, during which a fact-finding committee will be established,” the PM added.

Srettha emphasized that the transfers were not a punishment. Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Kitrat Panphet will act as the interim police chief, Srettha said.

“If after 60 days, it is determined that the judicial process can proceed without interference, we will consider transferring them back,” Srettha added

Thai National Police Chief Pol. Gen. Torsak Sukvimol (left) and Deputy National Police Chief Pol. Gen. Surachate Hakparn hold a joint press conference in Bangkok, March 20, 2024. [Tananchai Keawsowattana - Thai News Pix/BenarNews]

In an attempt to show there was no rift between them, the two sidelined top officers spoke to the media jointly at police headquarters on Wednesday after meeting the PM. 

“People think Pol. Gen. Surachate and I have issues, but as I’ve said from the start, we actually don’t have any problems with each other,” Torsak said at the press conference.

Torsak also said he was handing over all the cases related to Surachate that he was handling to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

For his part, Surachate said he was ready to be investigated. 

“If the prime minister issues an order, I must perform my duties because I am a permanent official, and he is my superior. I’m ready. I see it as having no issues of winning or losing,” he said.

Tensions began in September after the raid and arrest of Surachate’s associates by Lt. Gen. Traitrong Piewpan, then Commander of the Office of Legal Affairs and Litigation.

He alleged the raid and arrest were related to an investigation into an online gambling network.

Following those raids, Surachate’s house was also searched to find evidence of his alleged involvement with the gambling network. Surachate has always denied his involvement. He has yet to be arrested or formally charged.

Tainted force

This rift has reignited calls for a comprehensive reform of the Royal Thai Police Force, which has been plagued by numerous scandals in recent years, including alleged corruption, abuse of power, and cover-ups.

Worachat Awipan, a scholar at Payap University, said this latest development reflected the level of internal politics within the police force. 

“Despite attempts to reform since the government of [former] Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, success has not been achieved, and the problem continues to affect the current government,” said Worachat, a scholar at Payap’s Institute of Religion, Culture, and Peace.

“In monitoring the police, the government should be very strict because negligence could allow police involvement in corruption.”

The Thai police have faced much scrutiny in recent years as high-profile cases have put them front and center.

For one, Police Col. Thitisant Utthanapol, the former superintendent of the Muang Nakhon Sawan Police Station, used a plastic bag to cover a suspect’s head during a drug interrogation in 2021, leading to the suspect’s death. The court sentenced Thitisant to life imprisonment in 2022.

In February, prosecutors said they would charge Police Gen. Somyot Poompanmoung, a former national police chief, for impeding legal action against an heir to the Red Bull fortune.

The heir to the energy drink empire, Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, was driving a Ferrari when he was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident in 2012, where the victim was a police officer. 

But before any investigation or action the heir to Red Bull fled, allegedly with the help of police and government officials.

Initially, Somyot denied he was responsible, and the case is still under the prosecutor’s review.

Wilawan Watcharasakwej in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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