Thailand has widened a corruption probe into a network of police officers. As analyst Paul Chambers tells DW, the ruling junta also aims to strengthen their hold over the police, seen as a bastion of 'pro-Thaksinism.'
At least 17 people have been involved in a corruption scandal which has led to the arrest and downfall of several high-ranking police officers in Thailand.
Pongpat Chayapun, the former head of Thailand's elite Central Investigation Bureau, his deputy Kowit Vongrongrot and marine police chief Boonsueb Praithuen have all been accused by Thai authorities of running a corrupt patronage network that allegedly netted them a fortune.
The charges range from bribery to defaming the monarchy, a crime which can lead to up to 15 years in jail.
At a press conference in Bangkok on November 26, the country's police chief displayed pictures of what he said were assets worth 61 million USD taken from the suspects' homes.
Many accuse Thailand's police department of being one of the country's most corrupt institutions.
The Southeast Asian nation is currently under the rule of a military junta following a May 22 coup in which current PM Prayuth Chan-ocha toppled the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose billionaire brother and former premier Thaksin is an ex-policeman.
In a DW interview, Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, says he believes the junta will increasingly purge civil servants suspected of harboring pro-Thaksin sentiment.
DW: Several high-ranking officers are now under investigation under the country's strict royal defamation rules. What exactly are they being accused of?
Paul Chambers: They have been arrested on a series of charges ranging from bribery, illegal gambling, smuggling and lese majeste.
How are the charges of stealing assets worth 61 million USD related to lese majeste or royal defamation?
They have been related to royal defamation because the suspects stated that they engaged in the illegalities on behalf of a male member of Thailand's royal family. But by mentioning the royalty, the suspects can be found guilty of lese majeste.
Could there be more behind this than just law enforcement as the accused were high-ranking officers?
There certainly is, but it is difficult to talk about in the media. We can say that the alleged leader of the suspects is related by family to somebody who is very close to a person in the palace.
Are lese majeste investigations of such senior officers common in Thailand?
No, such purges are not common. The current faction that dominates the junta is seeking to weaken and control the Royal Thai Police, seen to be a bastion of pro-Thaksinism.
Some claim that the lese majeste laws have been abused to settle old scores or get rid of dissidents. What is your view on this?
The purge will weaken and neuter the police as a center of pro-Thaksinism. The purge, moreover, is perhaps being carried out to either drag the name of a person with enormous palace-related clout through the mud or destroy the name of someone very close to him.
What is likely to happen to the accused?
It's very difficult to say at the moment, but only a few les majeste cases have ever ended with no conviction.
How do you view the political developments in Thailand at the moment?
I think that the junta will increasingly try to enhance its control over the bureaucracy. It will increasingly purge civil servants suspected of harboring pro-Thaksin sentiment.
Dr. Paul Chambers is Director of Research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, Thailand.