A powerful Thai village chief and dozens of police officers sat down for a wild dinner party. It ended with a murder

A powerful Thai village chief and dozens of police officers sat down for a wild dinner party. It ended with a murder

By abc.net.au
Friday 29/09/2023
Kamnan Nok was known for hosting parties, which were well attended by police, politicians and celebrities.(Facebook: Thananchai Manmak)

They drank, smoked and partied at the lavish home of a village chief.

Then, dozens of cops watched their colleague die.

The murder of a Thai police officer at a dinner party and the alleged subsequent cover-up by the dozens of other police who were there has raised serious questions about corruption in the force.

Authorities believe the host of the party, village chief Praween Changkhlai, also known as Kamnan Nok, had asked Police Major Sivakorn Saibua to arrange a promotion for his nephew onto the motorcycle patrol squad.

When he refused, Kamnan Nok allegedly ordered one of his henchmen, Thananchai Manmak, to shoot the man and he opened fire at the dining table.

Police Major Sivakorn later died in hospital and another police officer was injured by a bullet.

Despite the fact there were 27 other police officers at the party, no-one thought to arrest the gunman and two CCTV servers were removed and thrown into a nearby canal in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

The two cameras pointing at the dining table where the shooting occurred had been unplugged.

Six police officers have already been dismissed from the force and charged with dereliction of duty for helping Kamnan Nok escape arrest after the party on September 6.

The village chief has now been charged, and more arrests are expected.

After a two-day manhunt for the gunman, a team of officers descended on an abandoned mess hall where henchman Thananchai Manmak was hiding.

When told to surrender, he opened fire and after a brief shootout with police, he was found dead.

But the repercussions of that extraordinary night have only begun.

Top cop nicknamed

Big Joke speaks out Deputy national police chief General Surachate Hakparn, who goes by the nickname Big Joke, said only six of the two dozen police present helped the victim.

The rest either ran or hid.

"This is unacceptable. They will face both legal charges and disciplinary punishment," he said.

He told the ABC the reputation of the police force was at stake.

"We must revive the image of police by not protecting the bad police or supporting our colleagues," he said.

"Bad police must be prosecuted with criminal charges and be dismissed.

"The police force has to be reformed and the leaders must be role models.

"We must order all police to serve the people and not just one person in the province."

The case has raised serious questions about corruption within the police force but also the power of "kamnans" or village chiefs — unelected governing officials.

Many Thais are wondering what kind of power Kamnan Nok wielded to be able to allegedly order the killing of a police officer in a room full of his colleagues.

As well as facing charges of premeditated murder, an investigation has been launched into Kamnan Nok's business dealings and the many government contracts awarded to the multi-millionaire construction tycoon.

The Department of Special Investigation has revealed two firms associated with Kamnan Nok won over 1,500 government contracts worth $320 million.

Big Joke said investigators will look for signs of corruption, money laundering and bid rigging.

So damaged is the trust in Thai institutions that conspiracy theories began to swirl that Kamnan Nok was not even being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison.

Former MP Mongkolkit Suksintharanon called on the minister of justice to examine the fingerprints of the man Corrections officials were claiming to be Kamnan Nok, to prove it was in fact him.

The Director of the Department of Corrections later issued a statement assuring the public they had the right man.

The Corrections Department has faced heavy scrutiny by the Thai public because of the ongoing controversy linked to the case of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The ex-leader, who fled the country after he was ousted in a coup in 2008, returned to Thailand last month — the same day that a party affiliated with him formed a new government.

He was swiftly arrested, taken to court and jailed for abuse of power and several other outstanding criminal offences — charges he has long maintained are politically motivated.

But he was transferred within hours of being admitted to prison to a suite at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok.

He recently had his eight-year sentence commuted to just 12 months, but is yet to spend a single night in prison.

'Money can buy you justice in this country'

Thailand's new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has promised that his government would purge the country's police force of anyone with links to the mafia.

"We abhor the illegal power of tycoons or mafia or influential persons. People are highly concerned about it," Mr Srettha said earlier this week.

"That's unacceptable. Today, I pledge to eradicate such infiltration using my authority to prevent such crimes."

But the opposition has little faith.

Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome told the ABC the prime minister needs to get personally involved in the case because allowing police to investigate themselves could present conflicts of interest.

"In Thai law, the prime minister is the highest commander of police, so he should take action by setting up a special committee to investigate this case," he said.

"We need action and so far, I don't see any action yet."

Mr Rome said this case has further damaged the reputation of police among the Thai people.

"We don't feel safe, even police are not safe and we have trust issues with the police," he said.

"Money can buy you justice in this country."

He also told the ABC money can buy power for police officers wanting to climb the ranks.

"The problem in Thailand is here if you want to get promoted, you need to pay," he said.

"If you don't have money … many police have to get involved with criminals, with drugs and with corruption."

He said he's worried the investigations that are underway may ultimately find nothing because some within the police force don't want to get to the bottom of the case.

"If this case ends up with silence and nothing happens, how can we believe in this government and in police?" he said.

Police force fallout from dinner party murder

Three weeks after Kamnan Nok's dinner party ended in bloodshed, the fallout continues for witnesses and Thai police.

Days after Sivakorn Saibua was shot dead, his supervisor, Police Colonel Vachira Yaothaison, was also found dead in what police say was a suicide.

But, with trust in authorities at rock bottom, rumours have spread through Thailand that there may be more to it.

"I'm not so sure [it's] really suicide or not. … I just worry it’s a murder," said Mr Rome.

And days after speaking to the ABC, General Surachate was taken off the case.

Just this week, his home was searched by the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau after he was allegedly found to have been involved in online gambling site operations.

Nothing illegal was found in his home and General Surachate believes the raid was targeted because of his crackdown on powerful figures and corrupt police.

He was one of four contenders vying to become the national police chief.

"I'm not worried at all because I'm not involved in this [gambling ring]," he said.

"I see this as nothing more than internal politics within the police."

By South Asia correspondent Lauren Day and Supattra Vimonsuknopparat

Original article link: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-28/thai-dinner-party-murder-mystery/102897608

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