BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police displayed stacks of cash, luxury cars and an extensive collection of antique Buddha statues on Tuesday seized in a probe that has led to the arrest of seven police on charges ranging from insulting the monarchy to money laundering.
Three of the seven have been charged with violating Thailand’s strict lese-majeste law, which makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the monarchy.
“Some secretly referred to or openly referred to the monarchy in various matters including transfers, illegal gambling deals and oil smuggling,” police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang told reporters, giving no further details.
News about the monarchy is heavily filtered by the palace, and under the lese-majeste laws, the world’s harshest, anything deemed an insult or a threat to the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
It is rare for high-ranking officials to face lese-majeste charges.
Police Lieutenant General Pongpat Chayaphan, a former commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau who was sidelined through a transfer to an inactive post earlier this month, and his deputy, Police Major General Kowit Wongrungroj and Royal Thai Marine Police chief Boonsueb Praithuen are accused of using the monarchy for personal benefit.
Police said a search of their homes revealed assets worth a total of more than a billion baht ($30.52 million). Police showed slides of goods they said were found at eleven safe houses in the capital Bangkok and around the country.
One slide showed a large collection of what appear to be antique Buddhist statues and stacks of Thai currency on the floor. Other photographs showed rows of luxury cars parked in a garage, cases of gold jewelry, ivory tusks and paintings.
More officers may have been involved in the range of offences under investigation, national police chief Somyot told a news conference. Those offences included bribery and extortion, he added.
“There are possibly many others,” he said. “If there is evidence against any others we will proceed without hesitation.”
Thailand’s military, which took power in a May coup, has vowed to reform the police, widely seen as one of the country’s most corrupt institutions.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Simon Webb, Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez