By KORNKAMOL AKSORNDECH,
Investigation persists into suspicious death of accused former official held over land-deeds scandal.
POLICE have not ruled out the possibility that a suspect in an illegal land-deed case was murdered while in the custody of the Department of Special Investi-gation (DSI).
“At this point, it remains inconclusive as to whether he committed suicide or was murdered,” Thung Song Hong Police Station’s superintendent Pol Colonel Mana Pohchuay said yesterday, referring to the death of Tawatchai Anukul.
Tawatchai, 66, was facing charges of illegally issuing deeds for various land plots in Phuket and Phang Nga provinces with a combined value of over Bt10 billion.
He was locked in a DSI cell in Bangkok last Wednesday when he hanged himself, DSI officers claimed, prompting them to call for help from Mongkutwattana General Hospital.
Despite emergency medical treatment, Tawatchai succumbed to his injuries the same day.
Hospital director Rienthong Nanna later commented publicly that Tawatchai might have been killed by persons who wanted to defame the DSI and hurt the agency’s credibility in other important cases.
Doubts in public have been growing that perhaps Tawatchai was killed to prevent him from testifying, because the extent of his alleged wrongdoing was clearly far too large for him to commit single-handedly.
Mana yesterday said investigators needed more evidence, such as the results of DNA tests of Tawatchai’s socks and shirt, to determine whether his death was suicide or murder. “Moreover, we are still in the process of interrogating witnesses,” he said.
Tawatchai’s younger brother Charnnarong Anukul said he suspected foul play because a death certificate showed that the suspect had died from a ruptured liver and asphyxiation.
Charnnarong was among witnesses interviewed by Thung Song Hong police yesterday. “The DSI can’t deny responsibility [for Tawatchai’s death]. The whole incident about his fatal injuries happened in its compound,” he said.
The Justice Ministry’s forensic team has also stepped in to conduct another autopsy on Tawatchai’s body to determine the exact cause of his death.
Charnnarong said he had already asked forensic experts from the Police General Hospital and Chulalongkorn Hospital to help with the new autopsy. The DSI also plans to recruit the help of forensic experts from Ramathibodi and Siriraj hospitals.
Asked if he believed his brother had committed suicide, Charnnarong said, “In my opinion, there was very little possibility of him killing himself. He’s a cheerful type. He didn’t show signs of stress when I met him.”
Deputy Police Spokesman Pol Maj-General Songpon Wattanachai assured the public that police would carefully investigate the case. “The investigation team is checking every suspicious point in the case,” he said.
Mana said security guard Sommart Nakwong was watching over Tawatchai’s cell on the day of his death.
“Initially, he told police that Tawatchai hanged himself with socks. But we found out that he later told the DSI that the suspect hanged himself with a T-shirt,” he said.
Mana said the conflicting accounts could have stemmed from shock. “The DSI has already put Sommart on a lie detector. We are waiting to see results,” he added.
There were not security cameras inside Tawatchai’s cell, he said. The DSI had not installed security cameras inside detention cells out as it could be seen as a violation of human rights, he added.
Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya has promised to take harsh action against any official found involved in Tawatchai’s death if murder is confirmed.