By KESINEE TAENGKHIAO
Pornchai Cholwanichkul, deputy director-general of the Office of the Attorney-General’s Department of Criminal Litigation, has vowed to make the case an example for society’s good standards, as he said cheating in this hugely popular sport has tarnished the image of Thai football and may have contributed to keeping the Thai team from reaching the World Cup.
Pornchai said he will assign a team of five or six high-profile prosecutors – who have handled major criminal cases including the grisly murder and dismemberment of a Spanish national in Bangkok in 2016 – to work on this case. Criminal case prosecutor 6 attorney Atik Khlaisang will lead the team.
It was initially believed that the case was motivated by football gambling.
National police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda and his assistant and the chief investigator of the case, Pol Lt-Colonel Manu Mekmok, led a 10-member police team to submit 10 files on the case to prosecutors. The 3,000-page report involved interviews with 16 suspects and 68 witnesses.
Police recommended that the prosecutors not indict one suspect and indict the other 15 individuals for conspiring to fix football matches and abetting wrongdoing against the Professional Sports Promotion Act 2013.
This is the first serious crackdown on cheating in Thai football since the Act has been in effect.
Chakthip said the probe took months before the arrest of the 12 original suspects in November. He vowed to keep an eye on all sports and proceed with legal actions based on evidence.
Under the new Act, those offering a bribe to an athlete to fix a match result or an athlete taking a bribe, or those offering a bribe to a referee to fix a match result, can be jailed for up to five years or fined between Bt200,000 and Bt500,000, or both. The punishment for a referee taking a bribe is a jail term from one to 10 years or a fine of Bt300,000-Bt600,000, or both.
The 16 suspects, all of whom maintain their innocence, were granted bail during the police investigation.
They were divided into three groups as they were presented before prosecutors. First, the two referees are Fifa referee Poomrin Khamruen, 31, and linesman Theerajit Sitthisuk, 43.
Second, the eight football players include four Thai Navy FC players – Petty Officer 3rd Class Suttipong Laoporn, 28, Petty Officer 3rd Class Suwittaya Numsinlark, 26, Petty Officer 2nd Class Seksan Chaothonglang, 35, and goalkeeper Narong Wongthongkham, 36 – plus Nakhon Ratchasima Mazda FC goalkeeper Weera Kerdputcha, 33, and two Sisaket FC players, Sergeant Theerachai Ngamcharoen, 35, Tossaporn Khamengkij, 33, and former player Ekkapan Jandakorn, 32.
Third, the six investors/representatives are Sisaket FC director Chedsak Boonchu, 46, Wanlop Samarn, 46, Kittipoom Papoo-nga, 34, Setthapasit (former name Manit) Komonwattana, 48, Pakpoom Pannikoon, 32, and Kantapat Srirattanachote, who police recommended not be indicted.