June 11, 2015 / 10:27 AM / 2 years ago

Senior Thai palace aide arrested on royal insult charge

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A senior Thai palace aide was arrested on Thursday for violating a controversial royal insult law, the latest case in an ongoing probe into suspected lese-majeste.

The arrest of Montree Sontangkul, 53, is rare in a country where palace goings-on are a carefully guarded secret. Montree, a member of the household staff of disgraced former Princess Srirasmi, is accused of demanding land sale kickbacks by citing his royal connections.

Thailand’s lese-majeste law is the world’s harshest, making it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or heir to the throne or regent. The maximum penalty is 15 years’ jail.

The military government, which took power last year, has pursued royal insult cases with vigor under the watch of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a self-proclaimed royalist who has vowed to root out critics of the monarchy.

Montree and three others are accused of defaming the royal family and abusing their royal connections for financial gain, according to police arrest warrants.

Montree arrived at police headquarters in Bangkok handcuffed and dressed in civilian clothes after palace officials handed him over to the police.

“We arrested Montree’s group according to the arrest warrant (charges) and have sent them to the investigation team,” national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told reporters.

Srirasmi Suwadee, formerly known as Princess Srirasmi, is divorced from Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Last year several of her relatives were arrested in a purge of officials allegedly involved in corruption.

The charges come at a sensitive time in Thailand, including heightened anxiety over the health of the revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, and nervousness about what a royal succession might bring.

Bhumibol was admitted to a Bangkok hospital last month for a health check-up, according to the Royal Household Bureau. Since then, there have been no official statements on his health.

Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by

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