Five soldiers, police officer arrested in extortion case

Songsak Virojthaworn, one of the kidnapped businessmen, points to one of the suspects on the police case flowchart during a press briefing at Krok Khram police station on Friday.(Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Eight suspects, including a high-ranking military officer, a police investigator and four navy sailors, have been arrested for the alleged kidnapping of two businessmen and 20 million baht extortion demand last month.

It is alleged they are members of a gang that has successfully extorted more than 50 million baht from their victims. Two other suspects remain at large. 

The six members of the armed services are – Maj Gen Jaroon Arpha, attached to the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, Pol Lt Col Natthakrit Yutthaya, an investigator with the Economic Crime Suppression Division’s sub-division 5, and navy personnel Aphiwat Srinaprom, Thepphithak Ratthanee, Saowadet Sakkittinan and Songwut Thiengtham.

The other suspects are – Opas Sriya, Uthit Kokaew, Thitikorn Chuenura and a Singaporean, Ko Tek Chuan.

Eight of them have been detained and five were allowed bail.  Pol Lt Col Natthakrit, Mr Opas and Mr Ko remain in custody. Mr Uthit and Mr Thitikorn remain at large. All are charged with extortion and trespass.  

Pol Maj Gen Surachet Hakpal, chief of the Patrol and Special Operation Division (PSOD), said an investigation was launched after Surachai Sae-yang, proprietor of New Gen Airways and Kanta Group (Thailand) Co Ltd, both airline business, sought help from the PSOD last month.

It was alleged a group of nine men, four in military camouflage and five in civilian clothing, intruded on Kanta Group in Soi Nuan Chan 34 in Bung Kum district in search of  Mr Surachai and Songsak Virojthaworn on July 14.

The two men were taken from their office to meet Maj Gen Jaroon, who allegedly accused them of using fake house registration documents and identification cards. He allegedly demanded they pay 20 million baht for protection against legal action. They negotiated the payment down to 2 million baht.

Mr Songsak told reporters during a press briefing at Krok Khram police station on Friday that he and Mr Surachai were released after handing over 1 million baht. Another 1 million baht was transferred to Mr Opas’ account on July 17.

He alleged the suspects were known among businessmen as the gang who earlier extorted 10 million baht from a Thai massage parlour operator in Pattaya. A busiessman in Bangkok had paid them the same amount. he said.

Mr Songsak said he paid 1 million baht to ensure his safety and transferred another million baht on July 17 to have evidence to report the case to the police. 

Pol Maj Gen Surachet also alleged the gang had extorted several people, estimating their takings at more than 50 million baht. 

Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang, chief of the Economic Crime Suppression Division, said on Friday afternoon that Pol Lt Col Natthakrit had been dismissed from the police force. A panel had been appointed to make a serious disciplinary investigation. 

He said the criminal case would be pursued according to the law, but the case also involved personal behaviour in which an officer allegedly extorted another person.

Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan said he had strictly emphasised to his subordinates not to become involved in extortion, or they would face both disciplinary and legal action.

National police chief Chaktip Chaijinda confirmed that both disciplinary and legal action would be taken against people who break the law, regardless of their profession.

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