BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand on Friday jailed three brothers of a former princess for 5-1/2 years, in the latest court decision giving prison time to family members after her dramatic fall from grace last year.
Srirasmi Suwadee, formerly known as Princess Srirasmi, is divorced from Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, and relinquished her royal title last December.
Her downfall and the imprisonment of many of her relatives come at a time of heightened anxiety over the health of Thailand’s revered, but ailing, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, and nervousness about what a royal succession might bring.
The brothers, Natthapol, Narong and Sitthisak Suwadee, were given 11 years in prison each, cut to 5-1/2 years because they confessed to the crimes of theft, insult to the monarchy and illegal detention, a judge said while delivering the sentence.
“They mentioned ‘the highest level’ in order to force (a victim) to hand over money, which defamed the monarchy and caused damage,” the judge said, using a Thai term that refers to the monarchy.
Their parents, Apiruj and Wanthanee Suwadee, were jailed last week for 2-1/2 years for defaming the monarchy following investigations into several family members who were accused of abusing their royal connection and of corruption.
A purge of some of Srirasmi’s relatives began last year after the sudden dismissal of her uncle, one of Thailand’s most senior police officers.
Several of Srirasmi’s family members were later charged with a range of offences from defaming the monarchy to bribery, following an investigation.
As the arrests reached fever pitch Thailand’s Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn asked the government to strip his wife’s family of their royally-bestowed name.
Thailand’s army staged a coup last May, which it said was necessary to end further bloodshed after months of protests aimed at bringing down then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The military has since ramped up its use of the country’s lese-majeste law, the world’s strictest, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Thailand has been polarized for over a decade. On the one side is ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his powerful political family, who courted rural voters by introducing cash subsidies and free healthcare. On the other are the traditional Bangkok elite threatened by his meteoric rise.
Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez