Kanokwan’s father ‘may have fled across the border’
The anti-corruption police chief conceded on Monday that the father of Deputy Education Minister Kanokwan Vilawan might have fled across the border at Prachin Buri province to escape arrest in a corruption charge related to alleged encroachment in the Khao Yai National Park.
Pol Maj-General Jaroonkiart Pankaew, commander of the Anti-Corruption Division, said security cameras in Prachin Buri happened to be “out of order” on Thursday, the day Soonthorn Vilawan allegedly escaped from Bangkok to Prachin Buri shortly before an arrest warrant against him was approved by the court.
Speaking live on Kom Chad Luek TV programme on Monday, Jaroonkiart said the statute of limitations in the corruption case against Sunthorn was due to expire at 4.30pm on Monday.
However, there are conflicting opinions on whether the statute of limitations in the case against Sunthorn would really expire. Legal experts have pointed out that the amendment of the anti-corruption act would extend the statute if a suspect flees during investigations.
Soonthorn, chairman of the Prachin Buri Provincial Administration Organisation (PAO), Kanokwan and eight other persons have been accused by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) of illegally occupying about 150 rai [24 hectares] of land in Khao Yai National Park in Prachin Buri.
Kanokwan was released on bail after she was arraigned in the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases Region 2 in Muang district of Rayong province.
Jaroonkiart said police from his division and officials from the NACC Office had been keeping a watch on Soonthorn and his aides before the court approved an arrest warrant against him on June 9. Jaroonkiart said the division had earlier been alerted by the NACC Office to monitor Soonthorn’s movements.
He said Soonthorn and his aides had gone for a business engagement to Miracle Hotel in Bangkok on June 9. They left the hotel at 1.30pm and turned off their mobile phones, making it harder to be traced.
Jaroonkiart said police and NACC officials followed the group until they reached Ban Sang district in Prachin Buri. They lost track of the group because the road there is under construction and there were many trucks blocking their view.
Then, when the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases approved the arrest warrant against Soonthorn at 6pm, the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) joined the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) to look for him but he had already disappeared.
Jaroonkiart said police had asked for footage from the CCTVs of the Prachin Buri PAO but the organistion replied that the CCTVS were out of order. He said police turned to footage from security cameras of local people but they have not been able to locate Soonthorn so far.
“So far, we can’t say whether Soonthorn has fled abroad. Data from the Immigration Bureau did not show his name as having left the country,” Jaroonkiart said.
He admitted that police have not yet checked natural trails he could have used to escape across the border to Cambodia, and admitted that it would be easy for someone to flee along mountain trails and cross the border.
“We, police, have tried our best to hunt for Soonthorn. The case will expire today at 4:30pm. If he is arrested before that, he must be sent to public prosecutors to be charged in court before 4.30pm,” Jaroonkiart said.
When asked why the CSD and the ACD did not seek cooperation from local police when searching for Soonthorn, Jaroonkiart said the central police did not want local police to feel “uneasy”, as they had good ties with the suspect.
“So, we’d better handle the case by ourselves,” Jaroonkiart added.
Deputy Education Minister Kanokwan Vilawan
Regarding the issue of statute of limitations, Prayuth Phetkhun, deputy spokesman of the Office of the Attorney-General, said the office would regard the case as expiring on Monday. Prayuth said those who disagreed must seek an opinion from the NACC office, which enforces the NACC Act.
Prayuth said Soonthorn was initially charged with three counts but the first and second count’s statute of limitations had expired.
In the first count, he was accused of violating Article 151 of the Criminal Code by abusing his authority to support officials in charge of protecting national resources to cause damage to the state.
In the second count, he was charged with violating Article 157 of the Criminal Code by supporting officials to commit malfeasance.
The two counts had expired during the investigations by the NACC itself, Prayuth added.
Prayuth said the office should not be blamed for the expiry of the case because the NACC had made a decision to charge the suspects and sent the case to the corruption case office for Region 2 at 3.12pm on June 2. Since June 3, 4 and 5 were holidays, public prosecutors had only three or four days to study and handle the case, Prayuth added.