By THE NATION
After seven years on the run following convictions for murder and corruption, Chon Buri-based influential figure Somchai Khunpluem, better known as Kamnan Poh, was arrested early yesterday while travelling in his vehicle in eastern Bangkok and placed in custody, where he was to begin serving his sentences of more than 30 years in prison.
The shock arrest has sparked speculation over the political consequences for the Pheu Thai-led government, as Somchai is the father of Culture Minister Sonthaya Kunplome, the leader of the Phalang Chon Party, which is a member of the Pheu Thai Party-led ruling coalition.
However, Deputy Prime Minister and Pheu Thai party-list MP Chalerm Yoobamrung dismissed the speculation as hype, saying no political bargaining or internal rifts played a role in Somchai’s arrest.
Chalerm said there would be no attempt to take legal action against anyone who may have sheltered Somchai during his seven-year flight from justice, though criminal liability does exist for such an offence. He did not elaborate on the statement.
STOPPED BY COMMANDOS
Somchai, travelling with a kamnan based in Chon Buri’s Muang district, a woman doctor and a male driver in a black Lexus SUV, was arrested by a team of fully armed police commandos when his vehicle stopped at the Lat Krabang toll plaza on the outbound motorway in eastern Bangkok. He was taken under heavy security to a Crime Suppression Division (CSD) commando unit off Lat Phrao Road for processing and registration of his arrest.
The commando team leader, Pol Colonel Athip Thaennil, said the arrest was made possible by “a citizen’s tip-off” provided a year ago to Pol Lt-Colonel Phongphat Chayaphan, the commander of the Central Investigation Bureau. According to the tip, Somchai remained in Thailand for most of his seven years on the run. Athip said police had not acted under any political pressure to arrest Somchai.
“The other details of the police investigation are confidential,” he said.
The kamnan travelling with Somchai, Winai Phonphaiphal, the chief of tambon Samet, admitted to possessing six shotgun shells. He was charged with possessing and carrying munitions without permission.
Somchai used the false name “Kim sae Tang” for his medical registration at Samitivej Hospital’s Srinakarin Road branch, according to police, who found packages of medicine in the vehicle, which Somchai admitted to taking. CSD commander Pol Maj-General Suphisal Phakdeenaruenart said footage from security cameras installed at the hospital were being examined to determine Somchai’s movements in and out of the hospital.
The hospital later announced that neither its medical registration or doctors’ records showed a patient under the name Somchai or Kim. Asked if the hospital knowingly treated Somchai under a false name, spokeswoman Aphinya Chotesri denied it, and said patients must register for treatment using only their real name, submitting their identity card as proof.
Former National Police chief Seripisut Temiyavet, a candidate for the Bangkok governor election credited with achieving both of the convictions against Somchai during his police career, boasted about his past work in taking down Somchai. Today, he is scheduled to make a statement about his role in the cases at a press conference at 1.30pm.
Somchai is in custody at Bangkok Remand Prison, and will soon be located to Bang Khwang maximum security prison, as his sentences carry combined terms of more than 15 years. At 75, Somchai has chronic high blood pressure, and a brain infarction, according to a prison doctor, who said Somchai’s relatives had asked him to provide a breathing-assistance machine.
Two solid legal cases against Somchai “Kamnan Poh” Khunpluem
1994 – Somchai arranges the purchase of land parcels and sells them to Pattaya City for Bt668,000 per rai for use as a landfill site
An examination shows the parcels were located inside a national forest reserve and were normally sold for just Bt50,000 per rai
Police take action against Somchai
Public prosecutors indict him in court
2003 –Chon Buri Court finds Somchai guilty and sentences him to five years and four months in jail.
2004 - Appeals Court upholds the lower court’s decision
2006 – He goes on the run. Supreme Court upholds the lower courts’ decision
2009 – Civil Court orders the seizure of assets worth Bt11million from Somchai, his wife and his son.
2003 – Prayoon “Kamnan Yoon Sithichot” assassinated and the gunmen point the finger at Somchai as the plotter
2004 – Criminal Court convicts Somchai in absentia and sentences him to 25 years in jail
2005 – Appeals Court upholds the lower court’s ruling
2012 – Arrest warrant issued for not appearing at the verdict reading by the Supreme Court
Supreme Court sentences Somchai to 25 years in jail for masterminding the murder of Prayoon
2013 – Somchai arrested while travelling out of Bangkok to his hometown of Chon Buri
Somchai to be required to serve out his combined jail term of more than 30 years