Leaked testimony from a police officer shows that executives in the Criminal Court stepped in and revoked an arrest warrant on drug and money laundering charges issued against Thai senator Upakit Pachariyangkun.
Upakit Pachariyangkun (front)
The seven-page document was first circulated on Saturday night (11 March). It constitutes testimony from Pol Lt Col Manapong Wongpiwat to Punna Chongnimitsathaphon, a member of the Judicial Commission, an entity responsible for internal investigations in the Court of Justice.
A leak letter posted in Rangsiman Rome, Move Forward Party lawmaker's Facebook page.
Pol Lt Col Manapong, now reassigned to Bangkok’s Phya Thai Police Station, later told the Inside Thailand news show and BBC Thai that the document was real, but he did not know how it was leaked.
Encounter at the Court
The testimony is divided into 27 points, explaining an incident that took place on 3 October 2022, when Pol Lt Col Manapong was an Inspector of Metropolitan Police Bureau Division 3 Investigation Sub- Division and leading the team investigating drug and money laundering charges against Myanmar business tycoon Tun Min Latt, Dean Young Gultula who is Upakit’s son in-law, and two others.
In essence, the evidence gathered by Pol Lt Col Manapong led to him to believe that Upakit was involved in the activities for which Tun Min Latt and others had earlier been arrested. He therefore requested the Court to issue an arrest warrant for Upakit, which was approved on 3 October at 11.00.
After receiving the warrant, he requested the anti-narcotics authorities and drug suppression police to put Upakit on the police’s CRIMES database of most wanted suspects, paving the way for his planned arrest on 06.00 the next day.
At 13.30 on 3 October, Manapong received a phone call from the Court, telling him to bring the arrest warrant and other related evidence back to the Court. He arrived at the Court along with two subordinates to find himself summoned into a meeting room. While waiting, Manapong received a phone call from a former commanding officer, asking why he requested the arrest warrant, to which he responded that there was enough evidence to do so.
Waiting for them inside the room were top executives of the Criminal Court - the Director of the Criminal Court, the Court’s Secretary-General, and the Deputy Director who was named in the document as Attakarn Foocharoen.
Manapong stated in the letter that he was questioned by Attakarn over his reason for requesting an arrest warrant. Manapong also stated that the Deputy Director asked him if he would “overthrow the authority of the legislature of the country” in doing so.
He also said Attakarn made a phone call to a high-ranking police officer in the Royal Thai Police, questioning Manapong’s action. When Attakarn handed the phone over to him, he responded the same way he had answered his former superior before entering the meeting room.
According to Manapong, Attakarn said the arrest warrant could not be issued the way it was, citing an amended Criminal Code Procedure which allows an arrest warrant to be issued for a suspect who has the potential of fleeing the charge even though the gravity of the offence may be higher than three year jail sentence, a former benchmark for issuing warrants.
Attakarn then asked Manapong to file a request to the Court to revoke the arrest warrant. Manapong said he would end up being prosecuted after making a U-turn on his decision on the same day. The Court Director agreed with his point and summoned the judge who approved Manapong’s arrest warrant request to the room.
Attakarn told the judge that the Criminal Court regulations provided that an arrest warrant against an “important” person must be issued after consulting Court executives; the judge responded that he did not know of any such provision.
Attakarn then told policemen to leave the room for 10 minutes. When they returned, the Court Director asked for his thoughts if the arrest warrant was to be revoked. He replied that doing so may result in Upakit’s investigation being foiled despite having clear evidence.
Attakarn jumped into the conversation, implying that the Royal Thai Police may not be transparent enough to handle the case, to which Manapong agreed. The Court Director then said the warrant would be revoked. Upon hearing that, Attakarn left the room.
Seeing him leaving the room, the Director apologised to Manapong for the Deputy Director’s inappropriate words. He also added that he was new to the Director position, and if the warrant was not retracted, he would be blamed by a “superior”, but Manapong had no idea who that was.
The judge who approved the warrant earlier then revoked the arrest and search warrants. While the revocation was in progress, the Court Director repeatedly asked Manapong if he wanted to leave some messages in the memorandum or not, to which he replied that it was up to the discretion of the judge, but if any, he wished the message should be written in the way that prevented Upakit’s investigation being stymied.
This request turned into a memo telling the police to issue an order summoning Upakit to hear the charges within 15 days. If he did not show up, then an arrest warrant could be requested. A copy of the revocation and memo was given to Manapong, which he later used to file a complaint against Upakit to the drug suppression police. However, from 3 October 2022 to 5 March 2023, Upakit was never summoned to hear the charges.
On 10 February 2023, Manapong and the other officers involved in charging Upakit were involuntarily transferred to other posts, which has led to them believing that the transfers were made in order to stop them from investigating Upakit.
Manapong’s observation in the letter says that the Royal Thai Police block on Upakit’s case affected the “faith of the people in the judicial process”, and the arrest warrant revocation on the ground that Upakit was an important person destroyed the principle that ‘individuals are equal before the law’.
The letter ended with the former detective’s reason for not complaining about the incident to the Judicial Commission as he feared the judge who approved and then revoked the warrants would be affected.
Investigation of leaks and the senator
The testimony was given about a month after the revocation of Upakit’s warrant was raised in parliament by Rangsiman Rome, a Move Forward Party MP. Rangsiman ended up being sued by Upakit, who demanded 100 million baht compensation for defaming him. Two news anchors and one lawyer were also sued for 100 million baht in total in compensation .
Despite the threat, Rangsiman kept on pushing the issue. He has been submitting petitions to the top-level entities in the police, the prosecution service, and the courts to move Upakit’s case forward. He insists that there really exists an attempt to take down Upakit’s case, hinting that a retired police general whose name starts with “S” was involved in the process.
Rangsiman (right) gives a speech at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau on 13 March 2023.
Sorawit Limparangsi, Spokesperson for the Court of Justice, said in the Inside Thailand news show on 14 March that the President of the Supreme Court has set up a committee to gather information on the incident, which is obligated to report in 30 days. Further action shall be decided by the President of the Supreme Court, depending on the findings.
In the same show, Pol Maj Gen Komsit Rangsai, Commander of Narcotics Suppression Bureau Division 3 said Manapong’s complaint regarding Upakit is under investigation by a joint investigation team of police and prosecutors as it is a transnational crime case as ordered by the Office of the Attorney General on 26 January 2023.
Komsit said the team will complete the investigation as quickly as possible. However, there were as many as 500 bank transactions to be checked and over 1,000 non-Thai documents to be translated and examined. The investigation into Tun Min Latt’s case will also be used to support this investigation.
Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas, Royal Thai Police Commissioner-General told Channel 7 that the Police Inspector General has been ordered to conduct an investigation into the matter as it pertains to the police. Regarding the transfer of Manapong, Damrongsak said that would not affect the case.
Judicial independence at stake
Upakit was previously a director of the Myanmar Allure Group. Corporate records show that he left the company in 2019, when he was appointed to the Senate by the military, which had overthrown Thailand’s civilian government five years earlier.
Putting Upakit’s investigation aside, the media have been trying to find an answer to the question of whether it is possible for an arrest warrant to be revoked in this way .
Court of Justice Spokesperson Sorawit answered this question in the same Inside Thailand show saying that he could not comment on this case, but in principle, a warrant can be revoked via a trial according to regulations of the Supreme Court President.
Assoc Prof Munin Pongsapan from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law said in a Kom Chad Luek news show that if what Manapong says in the letter is true, it would greatly affect the independence of judges, a core value of the judicial institution enshrined in the Constitution.
Munin said a judge's independence is what upholds people’s rights and liberties, and in a way, the country’s rule of law. Inferior regulations are written to maintain independence rather than become obstacles. If the Court executives want to disagree with the judge, they can publish a letter of disagreement, a procedure the exists within the system.
“If the fact is that the Court executives, or heads of the Court who oversee administration, were trying to interfere or pressure a judge who has power to rule, then this is something very worrying.
“Ordinary people will think that the ruling, issuing the order, is an attempt to interfere or pressure all the time, won’t they?” said Munin.
Asst Prof Pornson Liengboonlertchai, a legal expert from Chulalongkorn University, said in the Nithi Phisawong (Legal Mystery) programme on 13 March that revoking a warrant on the same day it is approved is not normal.
He said even though a senator has immunity from being arrested or charged, such protection is only available when parliament is in session in order to allow lawmakers to work. However, there are no provisions that prohibit people or officers from filing complaints or lawsuits against them.
On the question to Manapong asking if he wanted to overthrow the legislative branch for requesting an arrest warrant to a senator, Pornson said the explanation is problematic because individuals who may be involved in wrongdoing have to undergo a legal process.
“If we use the same rationale to earlier trials against ministers or other people, isn’t that overthrowing the power of the executive? And is what we are talking about preventing checks and balance?” said Pornson.