Thai police promote officer indicted over killing of Saudi businessman
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Thai police promote officer indicted over killing of Saudi businessman

Saudi Arabia downgraded its diplomatic relations with Thailand in 1990 after the murder of four Saudi diplomats, the murder of a Saudi businessman, and the theft of jewelery from the Saudi royal family (and in particular because of the later return of fake jewelry to the Saudis). Earlier this year, there finally seemed progress in one of the cases, namely the murder of a Saudi businessman, when five police officers were indicted, including Lt Gen Somkid Boonthanom.

However, last week the Police Commission decided to promote Somkid from head of Provincial Police Region 5 to the position of assistant national police chief. The Saudis were not happy and issued a statement as the Bangkok Post reports:

Citing the Police Act 2004 article 95 stipulating that any police officer who is alleged of or charged with breaching severe discipline or committing a criminal act would be ordered to quit his post temporarily until the legal proceedings have been completed, the embassy was astonished that the Police Commission has yet to take any disciplinary action against the defendants in the criminal case of Mr al-Ruwaili since January earlier this year.
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/>“The embassy is deeply concerned to learn that the high ranking officer accused in this case was further promoted in a manner that may affect the course legal proceedings against the defendants,” said the Bangkok-based embassy.
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/>“In light of these grave concerns, all current efforts and attempts by both countries to solve the pending issues directly affecting restoring bilateral relations may be seriously jeopardized,” the embassy said.

BP: Even for diplomatese one does not need to read between the lines. Full statement available on Saudi Embassy website here.

In response, new Police Chief Wichean is quoted in The Nation:

The Police Commission decided to promote Somkid from head |of Provincial Police Region 5 to |the position of assistant national police chief in accordance with |prescribed procedures because he had cleared his name in every criminal and disciplinary proceeding, he said.
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/>Regardless of a recent push by the Department of Special Investigation to prosecute Somkid, this had not triggered the reopening of the disciplinary proceedings against him, hence the police service had no justification either to suspend him or stall his promotion, he said.

Then, Deputy PM Suthep as per The Nation:

He said Somkid was entitled to a promotion review just like other police officers, who have not been caught up in legal or disciplinary proceedings.
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/>In the police investigation into missing businessman Mahammad Al-Ruwaili, all charges against Somkid were dropped and the subsequent disciplinary proceedings cleared his name, Suthep said.
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/>Although the Department of Special Investigation cited fresh evidence to reopen the case, the litigation involving Somkid had yet to unfold and it was not a factor to block his promotion.
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/>He said the Saudi authorities had misinterpreted a police provision, Article 95 of the Police Act, by arguing that Somkid should have been suspended from duty when facing charges raised by the DSI.
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Police officers were not liable to face disciplinary action for charges initiated by an outside agency

BP: Are both the police chief and Suthep clueless? Yes, it was true, he was cleared by the police, but it is not true that he is not facing legal or criminal proceedings. He is not merely under suspicion, but he has actually been indicted for murder in relation to the disappearance of the Saudi businessman and the trial starts in November 2010. Actually, the Saudi Embassy statement makes a similiar point and directly criticizes Suthep:

The Embassy deeply regrets to learn that H. E. Mr. Suthep Thaugsuban informed the media that disciplinary investigation of the Police Commission has cleared Pol Lt. Gen Somkid thereby justifying his promotion to the position of  assistant National Police Chief; and equally regrets that the Royal Thai Police Commission chaired by H. E. Mr. Suthep decided to promote Pol Lt. Gen Somkid despite being charged by Thai Authorities of a criminal offence.

Having a quick look at the Police Act, Suthep again seems (will say seems as not that familiar with the Police Act) wrong because Section 95 does not just refer to discplinary proceedings or legal charges arising from police investigation, but persons who have been “charged with committing criminal acts or a criminal case is brought against them” (ต้องหาว่ากระทำความผิดอาญาหรือถูกฟ้องคดีอาญา).

In case you are thinking, huh?! Why would they promote him in the first place? The Nation back in January has the answer:

After the military coup on September 19, 2005 [BP: 2006!!], Somkid had a stable career reportedly due to the influence of his brother, Army General Somjate Boonthanom, one of the many coup plotters. He was appointed last year to his current position, whose jurisdiction covers the upper North – a stronghold of the red-shirted anti-coup people.
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/>Despite frequent protests by local residents against his appointment in the northern provinces, and subsequent demands to remove him, Somkid has remained in this position, reportedly due to strong backing from Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who had opposed many proposed transfers in the annual reshuffles.
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/>Armed with the knowledge that he enjoys the support of the Democrat-led government, Somkid filed a complaint on Monday against DSI chief Thawee Sodsong accusing him of malfeasance.

BP: Need one say anymore… One only needs to look through the timeline of the case.

btw, don’t you love this ending?

The police chief said he also would tell the Saudi diplomat that if it were any consolation, Somkid’s promotion had actually resulted in his having a lesser mandate, since a commissioner in charge of a police region is seen as more powerful than an assistant national police chief.

BP: So they are arguing it is a demotion? Not so sure the Saudis will see it as such.

btw, apparently the Saudi Embassy put out a new statement yesterday – not up on the website – but one part of it has been translated into Thai and if translated back into English means “there is the appearance [by the actions] of some officials in Thailand that are protecting the promotion of Lt. Gen. Somkid” (“ท่าทีของเจ้าหน้าที่ไทยจำนวนหนึ่งซึ่งปกป้องการเลื่อนตำแหน่งพล.ต.ท.สมคิด”). Anyone seen the full version of this latest statement in English?