Bar-Brawl Killing by Corrupt Police Officer Puts Thailand's Justice System on Trial

by Phairath Khampha

30 November 2001

The killing of a Bangkok policeman in a bar brawl - by a wayward son of one of Thailand's most powerful politicians - shed light on a justice system which lets the rich get away with murder. Duangchalerm Yubamrung, 29, the youngest son of political veteran Chalerm Yubamrung, shot Sergeant Suwichai Yotwimat in the head on October 29, 2001, in front of numerous witnesses, who clearly saw the whole thing go down. A warrant was issued for his arrest just hours after the killing, but Duangchalerm, a sub-lieutenant in the Thai army, took refuge in a military camp and subsequently disappeared while members of Thailand's economic and political elite sought to protect him. Artharn and Wanchalerm Yoobamrung - the two older brothers of murder suspect Duangchalerm - would face charges relating to their alleged joint assault of a police officer, which in turn triggered the killing of his colleague. Witnesses, as is the practice in Thailand, were threatened.

Investigators were frustrated at the delay, saying that while police and military officers negotiated over the suspect's surrender terms, forensic evidence would have deteriorated.

"The problem in this type of case is that the authorities can't punish the guilty because it depends on the efficiency of the police, and the police don't always follow proper procedures," said Thana Benjathikul, secretary-general of the Law Society of Thailand.

"Sometimes, when there's enough evidence, witnesses change their testimony because of pressure from influential people, who will result to murder if need be so that the witnesses cannot talk. If we don't improve this process, similar cases to this will remain in Thai society forever."

The suspect's father, Mr Chalerm, has been a controversial figure in Thai governments since 1980. He has always been quick to spring to the defence of his three sons, who have been involved in a series of violent incidents, generally involving fights at Bangkok clubs. In previous cases, witnesses to vicious beatings committed by the trio were forced to recanted their testimonies. But this time Thailand's leaders were quick to say justice would be done.

"The Government and police will proceed by the law," said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a political ally of Mr Chalerm. "We will not allow political considerations to interfere in this matter. No one can help Duangchalerm."

Senator Thongbai Thongpao said it was not unusual for the rich and powerful who are implicated in crime to be allowed to choose the time and place of their own arrest. He said that despite the presence of witnesses, including policemen, who have pointed to Duangchalerm as the killer as they clearly saw him commit the murder, many feared that as time went by the waters would be muddied and Duangchalerm would evade justice, as is usually the case in Thailand.

According to police, Duangchalerm entered the Twenty Pub in Bangkok's Chao Phaya Park Hotel early on October 29 with an entourage of 10, including his two brothers. Witnesses said someone accidentally stepped on someone's toes and a heated and typically Thai-style uncivilised argument began between the brothers and a group of Crime Suppression Division policemen who were there to investigate a kidnapping case. The two groups traded insults and then fists, and at 1.30am, while fighting with Sergeant Suwichai, Duangchalerm pulled his pistol and shot him in the head. The group then fled.

Police said they found a clump of hair that is Duangchalerm's clutched in the dead man's hands. They said they also seized film from a security camera at the pub, but they have declined to discuss its content.

In the wake of the case, Mr Chalerm expressed sympathy for the dead officer's widow and teenage son and resigned his post of deputy leader of the New Aspiration Party. But he quoted his son as saying he was innocent, and that one of the family's bodyguards was to blame. In Thailand, as in most of the Orient, those who can afford it, pay some poorer person to take the rap. It is common practice.

"He told me he didn't do it. He said: 'Dad, don't worry. I didn't do it'," Mr Chalerm said.

Worries that the case would not be allowed to proceed by the book intensified since one of Mr Chalerm's closest political allies, Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, is in command of the police department. And he is very, very corrupt.

But Senator Thongbai was confident the case, because of its high profile, would not be swept under the rug.

"There were more than 10 people present [at the murder]," Mr Thongbai said. "The dead man's colleagues will testify. There will be someone who will be brave enough. I don't worry about it. The whole nation knows about this murder."

Army barracks open to police search

The military agreed to allow police to search barracks for murder suspect Duangchalerm Yubamrung, to prove it was not sheltering him. Supreme Commander Adm Narong Yutthawongse said it would be an offence for any military personnel to shelter Sub-Lt Duangchalerm.

An arrest warrant was issued on November 1 for the youngest son of New Aspiration party politician Chalerm Yubamrung on a charge of colluding to assault and murder Pol Sgt-Maj Suvichai Rodwimut at a Bangkok hotel nightclub early in the morning of October 29.

The charge was amended by police after investigators were ordered to become convinced more than one person was involved in the crime.

A special team comprising Crime Suppression Division and city policemen was set up on the same day the warrant was issued to hunt for Sub-Lt Duangchalerm and any associates. Pol Gen Sant Sarutanont, the national police chief, called on Sub-Lt Duangchalerm to surrender. He risked being shot by police if he resisted arrest, he warned.

"He should surrender," Pol Gen Sant said. "He will have problems if he encounters policemen outside and tries to resist arrest. Police have the right under the law to defend themselves."

"We are treating him as an ordinary suspect. He has no more privileges than anybody else," the police chief said.

Adm Narong said the armed forces would allow police searches of premises where the wanted man could be suspected of hiding. He denied the wanted man was in the custody of the Armed Forces Security Centre, the unit to which Sub-Lt Duangchalerm was attached.

"We haven't been able to get in touch with Sub-Lt Duangchalerm. Any contact is made to his family," he said. Adm Narong pledged full co-operation with police.

The Crime Suppression Division formed 10 squads to hunt the suspect down, convinced he would not surrender voluntarily. A CSD source said police expected an uphill investigation because of the complications resulting from the fact the murderer was a member of the elite's family. The suspect and his close aides were familiar with turning legal loopholes to their advantage and inventing circumstantial witnesses. Influence was also asserted to scare away witnesses. The source said he was aware that the chances of a successful prosecution were minimal because the elite always get away with murder in Thailand and are allowed some time to destroy evidence. The source said police lacked equipment sophisticated enough to detect and retrieve gunpowder traces from the suspect's hand after two days following the crime, assuming he had pulled the trigger.

Sub-Lt Duangchalerm's unexplained absence from work since the murder also made him liable to disciplinary action. He was transferred to a reserve position. Suspension from duty would be the next step, provided the defence minister approved, Adm Narong said.

Pol Gen Sant said the arrest warrant issued on November 1 superseded the previous summons warrant. It gave police and even AFSC officials the right to move in and arrest the suspect on sight. He could be apprehended even if he was in military uniform, as long as the arrest was made in a dignified manner.

Gen Suthee Charoonporn, the judge advocate-general, said that Sub-Lt Duangchalerm was now absent without leave. If his absence exceeded 15 days he would be liable to prosecution in a miliary court. If the suspect was in military detention, it was within the discretion of his superior officer to decide if and when to hand him over to police. The 1955 police-military agreement merely stated that the handover proceed "expeditiously".

Gen Suthee supported the push for an amendment to specify the handover timeframe. He said a military suspect committing a criminal act in collusion with any number of civilians should stand trial in a civilian court. A single suspect in uniform would face a military court.

Pol Gen Charnchit Pianlert, deputy police chief, claimed police were on the offensive in the case and would not wait for the suspect to turn himself in. The investigation was progressing and there was plenty of evidence, even though the gun used to killed Pol Sgt-Maj Suvichai had not been found after Sub-Lt Duangchalerm had handed it over to one of his friends at the scene described by some as his driver. Summons warrants for questioning would also be issued for the suspect's two elder brothers, Pol Sub-Lt Art-harn and Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm. The two men had been with Sub-Lt Duangchalerm at Club Twenty when the shooting occurred. Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm was believed to have led Sub-Lt Duangchalerm away from the nightclub following the shoot-out.

Pol Gen Charnchit promised a straightforward investigation. No interference of any form would be allowed.

Despite promises from various parties, Sub-Lt Duangchalerm again failed to surrender on November 1. At least a hundred reporters, photographers and TV camera crews spent a fruitless day waiting outside Sutthisan police station.

Commandos raid farm as manhunt begins - Suspect spotted at Koh Kong casino

Some 100 Crime Suppression Division commandos stormed a farm in Ratchaburi on November 2 in search of Duangchalerm Yubamrung, as a nationwide manhunt began in earnest. The farm was owned by an associate of his father, Pol Capt Chalerm Yubamrung. The commandos failed to get their man, but did find hundreds of cartridges similar to the one found inside the Bangkok nightclub where Sub-Lt Duangchalerm killed the CSD officer.

The fugitive has refused to hand himself in. His whereabouts remained a mystery, but police sources claimed he was seen in Cambodia's Koh Kong province opposite Thailand's easternmost province of Trat. Sub-Lt Duangchalerm, together with five bodyguards, were seen at a casino hotel in Koh Kong late on November 1 after sneaking through an immigration checkpoint in Laem Ngop of Trat. They were said to have booked two rooms. Laem Ngop immigration police could not find him at the hotel because they had lost some of their sight after having been paid handsome sums of money by the fugitive's family.

Pol Capt Chalerm said his youngest son left with five to six associates and 20,000 baht in cash. Pol Capt Chalerm said he could not contact him and did not know where his son was headed.

"It will be good if he is safe," he said.

Capt Nopporn Wuthironarit, commander of the Trat marine corps, said sneaking to Koh Kong would be easy as speed boats were available in Trat around the clock. Prasert Siri, adviser to the defence minister, who owns the Kalapangha pier in Trat, said the Bangkok-Trat-Koh Kong route was popular among crime suspects fleeing Thailand.

"They can get passports in Phnom Penh to travel anywhere in the world," he said.

Well-known people had used the escape route. Most ended up in Canada, which has lax immigration laws, naive police, military and government officials and members of parliament, and a level of political correctness that makes Asian fugitives easy to disappear.

A Defence Ministry source said Sub-Lt Duangchalerm might be in hiding at his family holiday house in Kanchanaburi. The house by the Kwae river was bought from Maj-Gen Sornchai Montriwat, the defence minister's secretary, for 42 million baht. The source said Pol Capt Chalerm had agreed to pay an inflated price, to thank Maj-Gen Sornchai for his help in arranging to get his son into the military service. The house was thought to be one of his likely hideaways but had not yet been searched.

Assistant police chief Pol Lt-Gen Noppadol Somboonsap said he did not believe Sub-Lt Duangchalerm had left Thailand, but was in hiding to prepare a defence as well as destory evidence.

"The national police commissioner (Pol Gen Sant Sarutanond) has told police not to lose the suspect. "Sgt-Maj Yim (the dead man's nickname) was a good man. Police in general are looking at the case to see if police can maintain the justice system. If it is lenient, they will lose their morale to work," Pol Lt-Gen Noppadol said.

Sub-Lt Duangchalerm's two brothers and about 10 associates would be called in. Pol Lt-Gen Noppadol said police would be punished if they leaked information favourable to suspects.

"Any police who do anything to help a suspect get off charges or relieve their penalties will be punished seriously," he said.

The farm stormed by the commandos, in Ratchaburi's Bang Phae district, was owned by Amporn Pen-thamrongrak, a provincial councillor, known to have close ties with Pol Capt Chalerm. The CSD has dispatched several commando units to search places suspected to be the fugitive's hideouts.

Pol Gen Charnchit Pianlert, deputy national police chief, said police had been told to keep watch. They were preparing to file a charge against his brother, Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm, for illegally carrying a firearm in public. Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm's gun was found at the crime scene.

Ten witnesses had told police that Sub-Lt Duangchalerm was responsible for the killing, a police source said in the evening of November 2, saying they clearly saw him shoot the victim at point-blank range.

Suspect suspended from military duty - Pay, benefits and promotion on hold

The Defence Ministry relieved from duty Sub-Lt Duangchalerm Yubamrung for murdering the policeman. Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh issued a directive to the permanent secretary who signed the suspension order on November 2, said Lt-Gen Surapan Phumkaew, the defence spokesman. The order took immediate effect and put a hold on Sub-Lt Duangchalerm's salary, stripped him of any welfare entitlements, and ended his military tenure. Maj-Gen Thanongsak Tuvinant, the Supreme Command secretary, said Sub-Lt Duangchalerm was now officially relieved of his duties at the Armed Forces Security Centre. He was now under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Command secretariat.

Suspects deny role in murder

Two co-suspects in the shooting death of Pol Senior Sgt-Major Suwichai Rodwimud were arrested on November 3. Both men denied conspiring to commit murder, the same charge facing fugitive suspect Duangchalerm Yoobamrung. Lance-Corporal Supot Saenganaon on that day turned himself in to Suthisan police to face the charges, after police failed to locate him during a search of his home in Bangkok's Taling Chan district. Police arrested Kritapat Chaktulanont on the same charge at his home in Rat Burana district. Investigators accused Supot and Kritapat of holding Suwichai by the arms while Duangchalerm allegedly shot him in the head. Supot and Kritapat denied the charges and refused to give any statement to police, who denied the suspects' requests for bail. Kritapat reportedly bore bruises on his body, which police suspect might have been sustained during the scuffle that witnesses said preceded the shooting.

Supot was detained by Suthisan police, while Kritapat was being held at Paholyothin station. The following day, police requested the court's permission to continue to detain the two for further questioning.

National Police Commissioner Gen Sant Sarutanond said on the same day that police did not believe Duangchalerm had fled to Koh Kong, Cambodia, as his father, Bangkok MP Chalerm Yoobamrung, claimed on on November 2. Sant said he had instructed police to seal the border, especially near waterways. Duangchalerm might be hiding out somewhere "unexpected", he said.

Pair identified

Three witnesses, obviously at their own fatal peril, on November 4 positively identified two suspects in the shooting death of Crime Suppression Division officer Suwichai Rodwimud, boosting the investigation into the case, which continued to receive unprecedented national attention.

Meanwhile, the manhunt continued for the youngest son of veteran politician Chalerm Yoobamrung. Thailand considered having to seek cooperation from Cambodia to extradite Duangchalerm if the suspect was located in the neighbouring country.

Police are closely guarded the identities of the three witnesses who had identified Supot and Krissanapat as being involved in the alleged murder. The two suspects were identified independently by each witness from a police lineup at Thung Song Hong police station. The witnesses would be liable for immediate and deadly erasure by Yoobamrung family and their cronies. Lawyers, police and media representatives were among those witnessing the event.

Maj-General Padej Talawong, commander of metropolitan police headquarters 2, said investigators at first had postponed their plan to summon Chalerm's two other sons, who were at the scene of the shooting.

"The two brothers were involved in the pub incident, but we are not summoning them now to prevent confusion [that could arise from the arrest of Supot and Krissanapat]," he said.

It remained unclear if Wanchalerm and Artharn Yoobamrung would be summoned as witnesses or suspected collaborators with alleged gunman Duangchalerm. The older brothers were with the suspect at the time of the shooting.

In classic Thai style of obfuscation and outright lying, Chalerm continued to change his story on his youngest son's whereabouts on November 4, now claiming Duangchalerm was still hiding in Thailand.

"He will turn himself in for sure, but that will be done very quietly, for his own safety," said Chalerm, who claimed that mobs were planning to "lynch" his son if he surrenders.

Chalerm blasted the witness identification as a joke, saying the two suspects' faces were well publicised by the media before the duo were shown to the three witnesses.

"I don't think the identification will have any bearing on the case," he said.

National police chief Sant Sarutanond said at least six witnesses - three civilians and three police officers - saw the shooting at close range. Some of the witnesses were within one or two metres of Duangchalerm and the victim, he said. They clearly saw Duangchalerm shoot the victim at point-blank range.

"In all my police career, I haven't seen so many cases with such complete evidence," Sant said. Police yesterday identified Puet - the man Duanchalerm's father, MP Chalerm Yoobamrung, said pulled the trigger at Twenty Pub - as Chalermchon Burisamai, 29, and summoned him for questioning in the investigation into the October 29 murder of Crime Suppression Division officer Suwichai Rodwimud. Sant played down the summoning, saying the key suspect remained the fugitive Duangchalerm.

"The six witnesses - three police officers and three civilians - said they stood just a few metres from where officer Suwichai was shot at point-blank range," said Sant. "And what they saw occurred after lights had been turned on inside the pub." Police suspect that Chalermchon was an accomplice of murder suspect Duangchalerm Yoobamrung, not the shooter.

Puet remained at large while, in a patronizing and classic Thai fashion, Chalerm's attempt to shift suspicion away from his son received the support of a family friend. Thitiwat Lertpakkun told investigators that Puet supposedly was prone to violence when drunk and that he worked as Duangchalerm's personal chauffeur. Thitiwat, an assistant to a Bangkok councillor for Chalerm's constituency, said he had allowed Puet to use his address as his own even though he had not seen him for seven months.

Chalerm had said the previous week that Puet had killed Suwichai - who was shot in the head at point-blank range - and that he was negotiating for Puet's surrender. Puet had moved into the Yoobamrung family home prior to the killing, but he disappeared on the day of it, an investigator said. Sant rejected Chalerm's call for police to release closed-circuit TV footage seized from the pub.

"Nobody can force police to do anything. Why should we have to show such evidence to him?"

Sant joined several senior police officers at the cremation of Suwichai at the Ratbamrung Temple on November 4.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed confidence that no Cambodian politician was helping Duangchalerm. Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said the Thai government would request the suspect's extradition if he were found in the neighbouring country.

Thailand and Cambodia have an extradition agreement.

Military ordered to join search for Duangchalerm - Chalerm breaks vow to surrender his son

The supreme commander ordered military camps nationwide to join the search for Sub-Lt Duangchalerm Yubamrung, who did not surrender on November 5 as his father had earlier promised. Adm Narong Yuthawong also warned that any officers who helped hide the prime suspect in the murder of a Crime Suppression Division detective would be punished, as would the unit commanders. Maj-Gen Thanongsak Tuwinant, secretary of the Supreme Command, said Adm Narong's order was sent on the same day to units of the three armed forces nationwide.

Bangkok police chief Pol Lt-Gen Anant Piromkaew said he did not expect Sub-Lt Duangchalerm to surrender. Therefore, he had ordered the police to arrest him as soon as possible. Assistant national police chief Pol Lt-Gen Noppadol Somboonsap said the fugitive's father, New Aspiration MP Pol Capt Chalerm, had earlier promised to deliver his son into custody. He said the delay in apprehending Sub-Lt Duangchalerm could affect the police case, especially the physical examination for bruises and gunpowder residue. There was also the danger witnesses might be influenced to change their testimony, which is a normal practice in Thailand.

Interior Minister Purachai Piemsombun urged Sub-Lt Duangchalerm to give up.

"He should surrender to defend himself like a gentleman," he said. "It would be in keeping with the dignity of a commissioned officer."

Mr Purachai wondered why Club Twenty was still open for business, even though it was a crime scene.

"Under the law, the place must be closed for 30 days immediately after a serious incident, whether there is a petition or not," he said.

The club's operator appealed against the police closure order, saying staff could not prevent Pol Capt Chalerm's sons and associates taking weapons inside the bar. City police chief Pol Lt-Gen Anant would consider the petition in 15 days. Meanwhile, the club was staying open, further eradicating any evidence, thus ensuring the case would be obfuscated.

The Criminal Court on November 5 allowed the continued detention of the two associates of Sub-Lt Duangchalerm for 12 more days.

Malaysia asked to help in hunt for fugitive

Malaysian police were asked to help in the search for murder suspect Duangchalerm Yubamrung, following a tip-off he could be in hiding in their country. Pol Gen Sant Sarutanont, national police chief, said investigators had been told acting Sub-Lt Duangchalerm had fled across the border.

Pol Maj-Gen Padet Talawong, city division 2 commander, said all eyewitnesses and staff of Club Twenty had been questioned. Investigators were checking to see if some would be questioned a second time.

A source said a police check had revealed that the Yubamrung family had more than 100 registered vehicles and more than 40 registered firearms for their own personal use. Talk about excesses.

CSD headquarters was receiving at least 10 telephone calls daily giving clues to Sub-Lt Duangchalerm's pos-sible hideouts, the source said. Informed military sources said Sub-Lt Duangchalerm had hidden inside the Armed Forces Security Centre for one day after the shooting. He had reported to AFSC commander Maj-Gen Praparn Nilwonge on October 30.

"Even Duangchalerm's father, Pol Capt Chalerm, was seen driving into the AFSC to see his son on Monday [October 29] night," a source inside the AFSC said.

Maj-Gen Praparn publicly denied he saw Duangchalerm there.

"Duangchalerm reported himself to the AFSC commander and told him he had nothing to do with the shooting," the source said, adding that the wanted man was seen leaving the AFSC compound on October 30, after the unit commander was widely criticised for trying to protect him.

Meanwhile, the Good Governance News Network radio station received public donations of about one million baht for a fund to help Kittisak, the 14-year-old son of Pol Sgt-Maj Suvichai.

Police confirm brothers would face charges

Artharn and Wanchalerm Yoobamrung - the two older brothers of murder suspect Duangchalerm - would face charges relating to their joint assault of a police officer, which in turn triggered the killing of his colleague, investigators said on November 9.

Deputy national police chief Gen Chanchit Pianlert said the Duangchalerm case involved three separate incidents that culminated in the murder of Crime Suppression Division (CSD) officer Suwichai Rodwimud. Artharn and Wan-chalerm led the physical assault on CSD Capt Wiwat Boonchaisri in the brawl at the Twenty Pub on October 29, Chanchit said.

As Suwichai was about to intervene in the tussle, Duangchalerm pulled out his pistol and shot him in the head at point-blank range. Following the shooting, a group of the Yoobamrung brothers' friends helped to prevent the policemen from pursuing the fleeing brothers. Suwichai and Wiwat had accompanied CSD deputy commander Lt Col Suthin Sapphuang on an undercover assignment on the night of the murder.

Former police inspector Maj Sarawut Sakunmeerit, accused of being an accomplice to Duangchalerm, on NOvember 9 failed to report to a summons to face charges of collaborating to kill Suwichai. Amnuay said Chalermchon "Puet" Burisamai and Watchara Sae Li had also not reported to police for questioning.

Pol Col Sumeth Ruangsawat, of Metropolitan Police Region 2, denied the allegation that he leaked information about progress of the investigation to Chalerm.

A CSD team, meanwhile, conducted a search at a Kanchanaburi resort, but failed to locate fugitive Duangchalerm.

Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun said members of the public should give police time to track down the fugitive, when asked about threats that the people were angry about the case and would protest after a seven-day deadline.

Wanchalerm charged, kept in custody

Wanchalerm Yoobamrung - the older brother of murder suspect Duangchalerm - spent the night of November 12 in custody after he was charged with three counts relating to their joint assault of the police officer, which in turn triggered the killing of his colleague. However, their eldest brother Artharn did not face any charges because eyewitnesses said he did not take part in the assault although he was present during the brawl, Police Commissioner General Sant Sarutanond said.

Police refused to allow Wanchalerm to be freed on bail and so he was locked up in a cell at Suthisarn police station after being questioned. Police denied Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm bail, for fear he might intimidate witnesses and destroy evidence, normal practice by the country's economic and political elite. The second of three sons of powerful politician Chalerm Yubamrung spent the night in jail at Sutthisan police station.

Investigators said Wanchalerm and former police inspector Maj Sarawut Sakunmeerit were identified 14 times by witnesses before the two were finally charged. Witnesses identified them in line-ups with motorcycle-taxi drivers and plainclothes policemen.

Pol Maj Gen Parnsiri Praphawat, metropolitan police deputy commissioner, said Wanchalerm was charged with joint physical assault against others, illegally carrying a firearm in a public place and obstructing official operations. Sarawut was charged with obstructing official operations and assisting a murder suspect to escape. Wanchalerm was said to have led the physical assault on Crime Suppression Division (CSD) Capt Wiwat Boonchaisri in a brawl at the pub.

With Duangchalerm's whereabouts still not known, AM Weerawit Khonsak, the personnel division director of the Supreme Command, said the missing brother would be discharged as a Supreme Command officer by the following week for failing to report to work without proper reason, that is, absent without leave.

Commando police were deployed at Suthisarn police station when Wanchalerm, Artharn and Sarawut turned up to ask if police wanted to press any charges against them. Dozens of supporters of the Yoobamrung brothers showed up at the station to give them flowers and moral support.

Wanchalerm had used a gun to threaten police while they were trying to arrest Duanchalerm after Suwichai was killed, Sant said, while Artharn did nothing. The two Yoobamrung brothers turned themselves in on the same day police were trying to obtain a warrant for Wanchalerm's arrest.

Assistant police commissioner Lt Gen Nopadol Somboonsap said police had asked for an arrest warrant yesterday on November 12, but the Interior Ministry had approved only a summons warrant after their father was able to "convince" the ministry not to go further.

Wanchalerm freed on bail

Wanchalerm Yoobamrung's first night in a Thai jail was not as hard as most people would imagine, because his father Chalerm sent four underlings to wait on him throughout the night. Luckily for him, Wanchalerm, Chalerm's second son, had to spend only one night in jail as he was freed on bail the following evening. What the elite in Thailand can manage to do.

And another team of some 10 servants brought him a huge breakfast, which he shared with other detainees at Suthisarn police station.

Wanchalerm also slept on a thin portable mattress instead of on the cold concrete floor like other crime suspects detained at the station. Chalerm's men brought a suitcase filled with clothes and other necessities - such as facial cleansing foam, toothpaste and cologne - for Wanchalerm to use in his cell. The mattress and some pillows were brought in late at night.

Wanchalerm was put in the same cell as former police inspector Major Sarawut Sakunmeerit, who faced two charges related to the brawl. The two apparently slept soundly until 5am, when they woke up and talked until 7am, when Chalerm's men brought them breakfast, including rice porridge, soybean milk and pa thung ko (Chinese fried dough). Wanchalerm's new friends in the cells were also treated to breakfast.

Wanchalerm wore the same white T-shirt and blue shorts that he had been wearing since he was detained on the evening of Nobvember 12, changing to a blue T-shirt and black jeans at 8am the following day.

Another team of Chalerm's underlings brought him a second breakfast at 8.30am. Many well-wishers, residents from Bang Khunthien district, also came to visit him at the station.

Chalerm himself was accompanied by 20 men when he visited Wanchalerm at the station at 9am. Before he was freed on bail, Wanchalerm asked his elder brother Artharn to pay fines totalling 6,000 baht (US$1=45 Thai baht) for three convicted drug-users, who were being detained at the station as they could not afford to pay their fines. The three were Yodkwan Phadungsakkul, Piboon Sawatsadee and Net Putthichok.

"After he spent a night in jail, he understood how hard life there is, so he asked me to make merit his behalf by paying the fines for the three," Artharn told reporters. When Wanchalerm was taken from the station at 2pm to the Criminal Court, where he was freed on bail, he passed the three prisoners and talked to them briefly.

"Don't worry. I've paid the fines for all of you, and now you can go free - but don't do it again. I was in here, and I know how it feels," Wanchalerm told them.

Investigators seek light meter

Police would try to use a light measuring device to support their claim that witnesses could clearly see Duangchalerm Yoobamrung gun down a crime-suppression officer, Police Commissioner Gen Sant Sarutanont revealed.

Duangchalerm's father, New Aspiration Party MP Chalerm, meanwhile, paid 700,000 baht cash yesterday to bail out Wanchalerm, plus Pol Maj Sarawut Sakunmeerit. A very paltry sum for someone like Chalerm. Wanchalerm was released on 400,000 baht bail and Sarawut 300,000 baht.

The National Police Office is seeking help from the Ministry of Science and Technology. Investigators want information about light measurement and a light-measuring device to boost the police case against the accused. According to Sant, apart from the venue's lights allowing people to see each other clearly, crime-suppression police had also asked bar employees to turn on more lights once the brawl between Duangchalerm's party and the police team began.

"The employees turned on more neon lights before Suwichai was shot," he said.

The accused, therefore, could not reject charges of conspiracy to murder by claiming it was too dark in Twenty Pub for witnesses to see the brawl and the murder, he said.

Twenty Pub witness ‘threatened'

A police witness in the murder investigation against Duangchalerm Yoobamrung revealed on November 15 that he had received a phone call warning that his career might be in jeopardy. The witness, whose name was withheld, said the male caller told him not to testify for the prosecution or else he would face problems involving his job. The witness said he told the caller he did not care, but he declined to give further details about the threat.

Police said on the same day their hunt for the fugitive Duangchalerm in Malaysia and Singapore had thus far been fruitless. Crime Suppression Division (CSD) officers on the same day twice searched a military camp in Kanchanaburi, but found no traces of the suspect.

Meanwhile, Supreme Commander Admiral Narong Yuthawong said that he had signed a formal order to dismiss Duangchalerm from the armed forces. Air Marshal Veerawit Kongsak, who headed a disciplinary investigation against the fugitive, had suggested to the supreme commander that Duangchalerm, an officer at the Armed Forces Security Centre, should be dismissed because it had been established that he was a fugitive in a criminal case. Narong said he would forward the matter to Defence Secretary-General Gen Samphan Boonyanont for endorsement.

In a related development, political activist Pakorn sae Dan said on November 15 he would launch a petition for Chalerm's impeachment. He said the MP should be held responsible for his failure to watch over his sons, who had caused much trouble in the past.

Chalerm's son sacked from army

Acting Sub-Lt Duangchalerm Yubamrung was dismissed from Thailand's military. The order was endorsed on November 15 by Gen Samphan Boonyanant, permanent secretary for defence, and proposed by Supreme Commander Adm Narong Yutthawong. Sub-Lt Duangchalerm was found guilty of being in absentia by a Supreme Command inquiry of disregarding an order to report for work and of avoiding a criminal investigation. He would lose his rank at a later stage.

AM Veeravit Khongsak, chief of the directorate of joint personnel, who chaired the probe, said the panel resolved to dismiss Sub-Lt Duangchalerm and strip him of his rank, adding that the officer's superiors agreed with the ruling. The panel agreed that officers facing criminal charges and fleeing arrest must be dismissed and stripped of their rank, as stated in a 1964 Defence Council resolution.

The supreme commander signed the order and sent it to Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. The defence permanent secretary endorsed on the order of Gen Chavalit. Gen Samphan said another order to strip Sub-Lt Duangchalerm of his rank would subsequently be issued.

Gen Chavalit, a good friend of Chalerm, said this might not be necessary, as the suspect held the rank in an acting capacity only. Gen Samphan, however, insisted that such a step was needed because the rank of acting sub-lieutenant was officially bestowed by the Defence Ministry, it has to be officially taken away. Gen Chavalit said he believed Pol Capt Chalerm, a key politician in the New Aspiration party and a close associate, understood the military's decision.

No bail deal, say police

MP Chalerm Yoobamrung offered to bring in his fugitive son Duangchalerm to face murder charges if investigators would agree to release him pending a remand hearing, a police source said on November 19. In view of the seriousness of the crime, investigators turned down Chalerm's offer, saying that they would leave it up to the court to assess Duang-chalerm's bail application, the source said. Chalerm apparently then tried to convince investigators not to oppose his son's bail application and police again rejected his bid on Duangchalerm's be-half.

An investigator on the case said Chalerm might have finished constructing a defence alibi to save his son before initiating the negotiations for his surrender.

The investigator also said that police eyewitnesses of the shooting by Duangchalerm had expressed concern about their safety, while Chalerm seemed to be coming up with a list of witnesses to back up his son's alibi. Reacting to the witness intimidation, Thana Benjathikul - secretary-general of the Law Society of Thailand - said that those who recanted their statements could face perjury charges and be prosecuted for obstructing the course of justice.

Meanwhile, Pol Lt-Colonel Manas Saengwongngam, an inspector from Surin police station, reported to Suthisan police to face charges relating to his negligence in carrying out police duties at the crime scene. Manas, seen as close to Chalerm, had accompanied Duangchalerm and his older brothers Artharn and Wanchalerm for the drink that degenerated into a brawl and a fatal shooting.

Speaking after being questioned, Manas denied the charges against him, arguing that he should not be accused of negligence because he had not witnessed the shooting.

Furthermore, a number of local councillors from Chalerm's stronghold in Thon Buri said the Yoobamrung family no longer enjoyed the trust of voters.

"Judging from public sentiment, the people of Thon Buri had already condemned Duangchalerm as guilty and his father Chalerm has lost touch with his constituents," said Kittisak Taoprasert, a councillor from Phasri Charoen district. Another councillor, Prasarn Lertsukheekasem, said Chalerm and his three sons had made a political blunder by trying to stay above the rule of law. A group of angry citizens, led by Pakorn Sae Dan, pledged to continue their protest until Duangchalerm was apprehended. The group held a cursing ceremony, condemning the Yoobamrung family.

'Murder scene well-lit'

Officials from the Health Department and Science Ministry said formal tests indicated the lights in Twenty Pub were bright enough for witnesses to have clearly seen whoever gunned down the police officer, the deputy metropolitan police commissioner said. Pol Maj Gen Amnuai Ditthakawee and officials from both agencies again inspected Twenty Pub, the venue where Duangchalerm Yoombamrung killed officer Suwichai Rodwimud after the brawl.

Amnuai said his team of investigators had visited the venue to gather more information about the crime scene before submitting a report to the Attorney General's Office. With technical support from the Health Department and Science Ministry, he said investigators were now confident that Duangchalerm was the person who shot Suwichai in the head execution-style. He was also confident that the public prosecutor would not dismiss the case because the charges against Duangchalerm and his companions were grounded with solid evidence, including multiple eyewitnesses, said Amnuai.

Meanwhile, investigators prepared to file more charges against Pol Lt Col Manas Saengwongngam, a Crime Suppression Division inspector from Surin province, said Pol Col Sumet Rueangsawat, deputy commander of Metropolitan Police Region II. Manas, who colluded in Suwichai's murder, accompanied Duangchalerm's group to the pub on October 29. He has given an interview, claiming that police forced him to identify Duangchalerm as the gunman. Manas might face a charge for defaming the authorities because the statement was untrue, said Sumet.

Police Commissioner Gen Sant Sarutanond said police had continued to provide protection for all witnesses in the case and for Suwichai's wife, Supatra, and son Kittisak. The two had received threats from an anonymous caller and sought police protection.

Chalerm and wife questioned

Police issued warrants for Pol Capt Chalerm Yubamrung and his wife for questioning as witnesses in a murder case in which their youngest son Duangchalerm is prime suspect. A police source said on November 29 Pol Lt-Gen Noppadol Somboonsap, who was leading investigation, wanted Pol Capt Chalerm and Mrs Lamnao to meet him on December 3. They would be asked to clarify the disappearance of two 6.35mm pistols while police were searching for clues at their home.

Police said Mr Duangchalerm used one of the pistols to shoot Pol Sgt-Maj Suvichai Rodwimut dead at Club Twenty on Ratchadaphisek road on Oct 29. He apparently used the pistol belonging to his mother. Mrs Lamnao had told the police that the gun had gone missing while she was moving home. The source said Mrs Lamnao had not lodged a complaint about the loss with the Police Registration Division.

"This is conventiently suspicious because firearms are important things. They couldn't just go missing at the same time. Moreover, the law requires firearms owners to immediately tell the police registrar if they lose them," he said.

Wanchalerm will not talk to police

Suspects Pol SubLieutenant Wanchalerm Yoobamrung and another suspect who colluded in the murder of a police officer at Bangkok's Twenty Pub refused to talk to police on November 30 saying they would testify in court.

Lawyer Sommai Koosap delivered letters on behalf of his clients Wanchalerm and Pol Major Sarawut Sakulmeerit to Suthisarn police chief Colonel Weerawit Chanchamroen. His clients were unavailable yesterday and would instead testify in court instead, Sommai said.

Police had earlier summoned Wanchalerm, second son of MP Chalerm, and Sarawut, also known as Sarawat Yoen, to answer more questions about the October 29 killing.

Asked about the "disappearance" of Chalerm's and his wife's 6.35mm pistols, Sommai said they were trying to find them.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner General Sant Sarutanond said that the National Police Office had already raised more than a million baht for a fund for the education of the slain officer's two children: a teenage boy and a sixyearold girl. 1,175,610 baht in contributions had been raised through appeals on radio programmes, Sant said.

Hosted by