Mon, Dec 08, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Fugitive pleads innocence

AFP, BANGKOK

A fugitive Thai millionaire wanted on charges including royal defamation broke cover to protest his innocence yesterday in a graft probe that has seen relatives of the crown prince’s wife arrested.

Nopporn Suppipat denied police accusations that he helped orchestrate the kidnapping of a man who owed him money, and said he fled to Cambodia on Nov. 30 after discovering he would be charged under Thailand’s lese majeste law.

“I knew ‘112’ would mean I wouldn’t get bail... I couldn’t take that risk,” the 43-year-old told reporters by telephone from an undisclosed location early yesterday.

Under Section 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

The comments from the energy tycoon — ranked by Forbes magazine last year as Thailand’s 31st richest man — form the latest twist in a corruption scandal that has rocked the kingdom’s elite and led to the arrest of three relatives of Princess Srirasm, the wife of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The police corruption case saw three senior officers — including the head of the elite Central Investigation Bureau — arrested on a string of bribery charges at the end of last month.

More than 20 people have been arrested so far in the probe as the junta-backed police chief promotes an anticorruption crusade.

However, the investigation has also seen the palace fall under a rare spotlight at a time of deep uncertainty.

On Friday, ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej canceled plans to hold a public audience marking his 87th birthday, adding to anxiety about the kingdom’s future after the army seized power from a civilian government in May. Meanwhile, Vajiralongkorn has demanded the ruling regime ban anyone from using the surname “Akharaphongpreecha.”

Three people with the surname — an honorific given to relatives of Princess Srirasm following her marriage to the crown prince — were arrested nearly two weeks ago on graft charges.

Police accuse Nopporn of hiring the Akharaphongpreechas to kidnap his former business partner to force him to reduce a loan he owed. However, Nopporn said he had never met or hired Princess Srirasm’s relatives.

“On my mother’s and father’s and everyone I love’s life, I had never met or heard of them until this happened,” he said.

Instead, he says he was engaged in a lengthy court dispute over money with the businessman, eventually enlisting the help of a senior army officer to help negotiate a final settlement. Nopporn said the officer hired the Akharaphongpreechas without his knowledge.

The energy tycoon added that he believed he was being targeted because he was perceived as being close to former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, although he insisted he was not a supporter of the ousted leader, who lives in self-exile abroad. May’s coup deposed Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, as prime minister.

He said he had no intention of returning to Thailand any time soon because he believed he would be unable to get a fair hearing in the junta-led nation.

Junta spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said he could not comment on Nopporn’s remarks as the case was still under investigation.

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