Exiled cop who led anti-trafficking probe claims ‘big fish’ spared in 2015 case
A former senior police officer who fled after his human trafficking probe led to the arrest of an Army general in 2015, has claimed “many more big fish would have been caught” if the probe had been allowed to continue.
Police Major General Paveen Pongsirin, now in asylum in Australia, said on Saturday that he had to flee Thailand more than six years ago after facing persecution from the Royal Thai Police, the government and powers-that-be at the time.
He thanked MP Rangsiman Rome, from the opposition Move Forward Party, for raising the issue of human trafficking and his plight during Friday’s general debate in the House of Representatives.
“I confirm that was what really happened,” Paveen said of Rangsiman’s allegations.
The former chief investigator appeared during an online meeting with Rangsiman and Progressive Movement leader Pannika Wanich, which was broadcast live on Move Forward’s Facebook page on Saturday.
Paveen said he has lived in Australia “like a refugee”, having to learn a new language and earn his living with no property.
“If Thailand had a true democracy at that time and the justice process had been allowed to run its course, I am confident that my investigation would have caught several more big fish,” he said.
His police probe led to the arrests of Lt-General Manas Kongpan and several local politicians, policemen and military officers for alleged involvement in a human trafficking ring.
The probe was launched after more than 30 shallow graves were discovered in an abandoned jungle camp in Songkhla province near the Malaysian border in May 2015. Most of the exhumed bodies were believed to be Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar and heading for Malaysia.
In July 2017, Lt-Gen Manas was convicted of trafficking and taking bribes and sentenced to 27 years in jail. He died of a heart attack while in prison in June 2021, at the age of 65.
In October 2015, Paveen – then a deputy commander of Region 8 Police covering southern provinces – was transferred to the Border Patrol Police operation centre in the southern border region. That put Paveen at the risk of retribution as the area was under the influence of the human trafficking ring involved.
After requesting asylum in Australia, Paveen was reprimanded for disobedience. He later resigned from the police force.
Speaking during Friday’s general debate, Rangsiman said the former senior police officer failed to receive state protection for doing his job properly.
The opposition MP questioned whether “people bigger than Lt-Gen Manas” were involved in the high-profile human trafficking case.
“Was anyone in this government involved? Was the obstruction of Pol Maj-Gen Paveen’s investigation intended to cut short the case?” Rangsiman asked.
He also noted that Thailand’s trafficking situation remained worrying years after the high-profile case, citing the latest Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the US Department of State in June last year.
The report downgraded Thailand to the Tier 2 Watch List. “The government of Thailand does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so,” it said.