A fugitive police chief wanted in Thailand for the fatal beating of a detainee has astonished friends and foes alike by holding a press conference before a crowd of millions after his surrender. In the conversation, manager Thitisan Utthanaphon (39) admitted that although he had mistreated the suspect, he believes that there is absolutely no question of murder, extortion or a conspiracy. “I was trying to get information from the suspect with the aim of killing the drug cartel.”
Thai police opened a manhunt for the police chief and six colleagues earlier this week after a shocking video of an arrest of a drug suspect surfaced on social media. Jeerapong Thanapat, 24, and his girlfriend were arrested in early August on suspicion of smuggling 100,000 methamphetamine pills.
The interrogation at the police station quickly got completely out of hand. When the twenty-something refused to pay a doubling of the bribe, the police chief ordered his colleagues to pull a bag over his head and strangle the detainee.
Arrogance and blinders
Police Chief Thitisan Utthanaphon admits he was involved in this torture. In a very unusual press conference organized by Thai police in Bangkok, Utthanaphon answered questions from reporters about the drama. According to the chief, it would not be torture or murder, but an ‘accident’. “I had no intention of killing him,” Utthanaphon said. “I was doing my job and trying to keep our people’s children from becoming addicted to drugs.”
He said it was the first time he had ever treated a suspect in this way, according to the BBC. There was also no question of corruption or extortion, according to Utthanaphon. “For my subordinates, I take full responsibility for what they have done, because I gave them the order. They have nothing to do with this. They tried to stop me.” Utthanaphon denied the charges that he had tried to extort the suspect. “Money is not an issue here. Never in my police life have I been bribed.”
The fact that the manager was given the opportunity to wipe his street in front of an audience of millions is not a good idea for many people in Thailand.
“Successive Thai governments have a long history of failing to account for even the most heinous police crimes against people in custody,” Brad Adams, Asia director at human rights organization Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian. “Public trust in the police is at an all-time low,” adds human rights organization Cross-Cultural Foundation. “This underlines once again why there is an urgent need to end police immunity.”
The Thai national police chief Suwat Jangyodsok gave the green light to the press conference because he thought he could save the honour of the force, he told reporters. According to critics, it underlines the arrogance and blinders that have characterized the Thai police for years.
The now arrested Thitisan Utthanaphon is charged in this case with assault, conspiracy and involvement in fatal torture. Footage of the shocking incident has been viewed millions of times around the world. Earlier this week, the police searched the luxury estate of Utthanaphon in Bangkok, where 13 expensive cars were seized.
The man, nicknamed ‘Jo Ferrari’ because of his huge collection of expensive racing cars, has previously been discredited. In 2015, for example, he was accused of stalking his ex-girlfriend and allegedly abusing his power, Thai media writes.
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