Murderer Son of High-Ranking Thai Politician in Hiding With Help of Elite

by Phairath Khampha

31 January 2002

Fugitive hiding in Cambodia - Harboured by navy chief, says military

Thai murderer Duangchalerm Yubamrung, the youngest son of a corrupt senior Thai politician, continued to be the guest of Cambodian navy commander Tea Vinh, said Thai military sources. Mr Duangchalerm was staying at the navy's base in Koh Rong under the protection of Vice-Adm Tea Vinh, younger brother of Cambodian Defence Minister Gen Tea Banh. Mr Duangchalerm was wanted in Thailand for the murder of Pol Sgt-Maj Suwichai Rodwimut, a Crime Suppression Division detective, in a Bangkok pub in October 2001, a murder clearly witnessed by dozens of witnesses who now were being intimidated. He fled straight after the murder and was discharged from the military after failing to turn up to work, but Thailand's corrupt elite continued to protect him creating a massive justice scandal in the country.

Mr Duangchalerm's father, Chalerm Yubamrung, enjoyed close ties with Gen Tea Banh and other officers in Koh Kong, and was a frequent visitor to casinos in the Cambodian province.When Mr Duangchalerm wanted to see his family he usually met them at a Koh Kong casino.

Cambodian intelligence sources told the Thai military that Mr Duangchalerm was in Cambodia. Thai engineering soldiers building a road in Koh Kong confirmed the report, but said it was not their duty to arrest him. This is in keeping with protecting the elite, even if they commit murder because Thailand has two levels of justice--one for the ordinary people and the other for the economic and political elite.

"Duangchalerm has been dismissed from service. We have not reported this to any other agency. This is a government matter," the source said.

Col Narong Wongklaharn, deputy chief-of-staff of the Burapa Force, said the military could not confirm reports that Mr Duangchalerm had stayed at a casino in Poipet. He was not seen passing any legal border checkpoints. However, Col Narong said it was easy to get into Cambodia through many unpoliced passes. Pol Capt Chalerm had visited casinos in Poipet several times, he added. A source in Klong Yai, Trat, said Mr Duangchalerm was staying with the Cambodian navy amid tight security.

Mr Duangchalerm had stayed initially at a house belonging to Gen Tea Banh's mother, before travelling with a few followers in a speed boat to Koh Kong. He reached Koh Kong on November 1, and stayed at Koh Kong National Resort Club, belonging to Pat Supapa. Shortly afterwards, he took refuge with Vice-Adm Tea Vinh.

Pol Capt Chalerm took his family to Koh Kong on Dececember 9 to visit Mr Duangchalerm. He also gave his son and Vice-Adm Tea Vinh money. They made another visit on December 31 and January 1 for New Year festivities. A Thai navy source said the fugitive had made forays into Phnom Penh and Vietnam under tight security to visit brothels.

The suspect often went to Phnom Penh where he stayed for weeks with Gen Tea Banh. Sometimes, he visited casinos in Koh Kong and Poipet for gambling, the source said.

The Club Twenty murder case against Mr Duangchalerm opened minus its prime suspect at the Criminal Court on January 15, 2002. Four suspects were there: Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm Yubamrung (Mr Duangchalerm's elder brother), Pol Maj Saravut Sakulmeerit, Krisapat Jaturanon and Supoj Saeng-anant.

Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm and Pol Maj Saravut blocked the police from arresting Mr Duangchalerm on the night of the shooting while Mr Krisapat and Mr Supoj were charged with taking part in the murder. Prosecutors filed their cases on December 28. Vivat Duangchan, director-general for criminal litigation, said if Mr Duangchalerm decided to stay in hiding, he would have to be away a long time, as the statute of limitations for murder was 20 years. But for the Thai rich that is not a problem. He could have a good time and continue with his violent and sadistic manner elsewhere and always pay out money for his transgressions.

Police team sent to hunt for fugitive in Cambodia

Thailand's police chief hsent a team to Cambodia to look for fugitive Duangchalerm Yabumrung, as Phnom Penh denied he was a guest of a top naval officer. Pol Gen Sant Sarutanont sent his assistant, Pol Lt-Gen Noppadol Somboonsap, and Pol Maj-Gen Surasit Sangkhapong, head of the Crime Suppression Division, to Cambodia on January 16, along with a police team. Sources said the team would ask about Mr Duangchalerm's whereabouts from senior military and police officers.

Tea Vinh's older brother, Cambodian co-defence minister Tea Banh, denied the reports, but said Bangkok was welcome to investigate anyway.

"We have no relations with that person, at all," he said. "I invite them to investigate if he is here ... If the Thais want to arrest him, we will co-operate at any time."

"I don't know that person and I have never met him," he said. But of course, by the time the Thai police reached there he would be hiding at another undisclosed place.

Deputy Premier and Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh declined comment on the reports. Gen Chavalit has close and personally lucrative ties with the Cambodian military, but declined to say whether he would look into the report himself. Army adviser Gen Vichit Yatip, a former staff officer to Gen Chavalit who also had close, lucrative ties with Gen Tea Banh, said the reports were nonsense. Adm Narong Yuthawong, the supreme commander, said the military was not obliged to trace Mr Duang-chalerm or verify the report.

A source said the CSD had questioned Thai gamblers, three of whom said they had seen Mr Duangchalerm at the Poipet casino. A well-known oil trader identified only as "Sia Tue" who was close to Pol Capt Chalerm had arranged Mr Duangchalerm's escape to Cambodia. The fugitive had hidden in Sia Tue's tanker in the high seas bordering Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese waters before Sia Tue brought him to Koh Kong with the help of senior military officers in Cambodia.

Pol Capt Chalerm planned to buy a stake in the Princess casino and let Mr Duangchalerm supervise the operation so that he could make a good living while living in Thailand in exile for as many years as it took for the issue to fade from the minds of the people and the government.

Suspect seen in Thailand's Chumphon Province

Meanwhile police at Langsuan checkpoint claimed they were 'nearly 100 per cent sure' the murder suspect was in one of two Mercedes that went past them. Three policemen manning a southern checkpoint said they were almost certain that murder suspect Duangchalerm Yubamrung sped past their post in a Mercedes Benz on Janaury 17.

"I and the other two policemen are nearly 100 per cent sure it was him. We have seen the guy on TV every day," Pol Corporal Nawatta-nachai Sithichai said.

Thailand's most wanted fugitive was among three people in the south-bound car, which was accompanied by another Mercedes when it went past the Langsuan district checkpoint in Chumphon province, the officer said. The two Mercedes cars raced ahead of 10-wheel trucks as they approached the checkpoint. The policemen signalled the two vehicles to stop but the drivers sped past, heading towards Surat Thani. There were also three people in the other Mercedes. Police noted the registration of the car in which the man who looked like Duangchalerm was riding but later said the licence plate was a fake as the number on it actually belongs to a Mitsubishi car.

Assistant Police Commissioner Lt General Noppadol Somboonsap quoted Surat Thani police chief Maj General Santhan Chayanont as saying that whether the man in the Mercedes was Duangchalerm could not be positively confirmed. Luangsuan district police chief Colonel Narin Busayawit also declined to confirm his subordinates' version of events.

There was no police chase. The Langsuan police said they alerted their counterparts in Lamae district bordering Surat Thani but for unclear reasons a roadblock could not be set up in time. Lamae police sources said the two Mercedes cars were seen speeding through the district at high speed. It turned out the police there were afarid of personal consequences if they were to stop and arrest the son of such an influential person. Usually death awaits such diligent and honest police officers.

The following day, businessman Watthayot Phetsuwan claimed it was he who had driven through the checkpoint. He said people told him he looked like murder suspect Duangcha-lerm Yubamrung but he had never expected to actually get into trouble as when police mistook him for the high-profile suspect. The police had stopped him at a third checkpoint and asked for his identification and later let him go when they released it was not Duangchalerm. But a reporter, who happened to be at one of the checkpoints said he was sure he and the police had also seen Duangchalerm drive by in the green Mercedes and had sped through the checkpoints in order that the police could not stop him.

Given, that both are members of the elite, it is possible this was set up to create just such confusion as to who was whom. Watthayot has connections in politics. He is a nephew of Kosol Phetsuwan, advisor to Deputy Communication Minister Pracha Maleenont and used to meet Prime Minister's Office Minister General Thammarak and Defence Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the New Aspiration Party leader.

Prosecution to call 53 witnesses - Criminal Court sets dates for hearings

More than 50 prosecution witnesses would testify in the trial of Wanchalerm Yubamrung and three other people charged over the October 29 murder of a policeman at Club Twenty. The case was set to begin in the Criminal Court in July. The court on Janaury 16 scheduled 30 witness hearings.

Named as defendants are Krispat Jaturanon and Supoj Saeng-anan, charged with assault and murder, and Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm and Pol Maj Sarawut Sakulmeerit, charged with obstructing the arrest of murder suspects.

Wichit Kaenkamchorn, of the Criminal Litigation Division 4, said the prosecution would call 53 witnesses. Defence counsel Sommai Koosap opposed the prosecution's request for a ban on Mr Supoj and Pol Sub-Lt Wanchalerm visiting entertainment places for five years. He also asked the court to forbid prosecutors and police from giving the media information deemed unfair to the defendants. The court accepted the prosecution's request for the ban.

There was no need to prevent law enforcement officers from liaising with the media, since the press abided by the law to present news ethically and fairly, the court ruled.

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