Thu, Dec 04, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Police pursue top Thai energy tycoon

WIDENING NET:Thought to be on the run, Thailand’s 31st richest man was sought in an alleged kidnapping, while a nationwide anticorruption inquiry broadened

AFP, BANGKOK

Thai police yesterday said they are hunting one of the kingdom’s richest men as part of a sprawling graft probe that has rocked the country’s elite.

Energy tycoon Nopporn Suppipat is the latest high-profile figure to fall foul of the widening corruption scandal, which has already ensnared several top law enforcement officials and saw the family of a Thai princess stripped of its honorific title.

“The military court approved his arrest warrant on Monday on charges of lese majeste and illegal detention,” Royal Thai Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri told reporters.

Nopporn was ranked as Thailand’s 31st richest man last year by Forbes magazine, with an estimated fortune of US$800 million, and is thought to be on the run.

He is alleged to have hired men to abduct a businessman in Bangkok in order to have a debt he owed relieved, the police spokesman added.

US-educated Nopporn, reported to be in his early 40s, is the founder of Wind Energy Holdings, which operates wind power plants.

“It is likely he has fled Thailand,” the spokesman said, adding that police are mulling warrants for two more people in the corruption case.

So far, 22 people have been arrested in a case that has cast light on graft allegations in the highest echelons of the police force as the junta-backed police chief trumpets an apparently fearless anticorruption crusade.

However, it has also seen the palace fall under a rare spotlight after Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn asked the junta to bar anyone from using the surname “Akkharapongpricha.”

Three people with the surname — an honorific given to relatives of Princess Srirasmi following her marriage to the crown prince — were arrested last week on graft charges.

The graft inquiry exploded at the end of last month, when three senior police officers — including the head of the elite Central Investigation Bureau — were arrested on a string of bribery charges.

Some of those detained were also charged with lese majeste, with police saying they had made “false claims” about a royal to justify committing crimes that allegedly ranged from running illegal casinos and oil smuggling, kidnapping and extortion.

Thailand’s monarchy is protected by strict lese majeste laws. Both local and international media outlets must heavily self-censor when covering the Thai royal family.

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