BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police on Wednesday said they were turning their attention to senior military officers as part of a major investigation into a network of people charged with insulting the monarchy.
The investigation has heightened scrutiny of the world’s toughest lese majeste law, which critics say is often used as a political tool to discredit and silence opponents.
It also comes at a time of greater anxiety over the health of Thailand’s revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, and nervousness about what a royal succession could bring.
Wednesday’s announcement is the latest development in a process that began in 2014 and has widened to embroil top police officers, a former princess, some of her relatives and a fortune-teller.
“Police are investigating the allegation that military major generals and colonels are involved,” said police spokesman Major General Piyaphand Pingmuang.
“If there is firm evidence, we will issue arrest warrants immediately.”
Between 40 and 50 military officers could be involved, media reported.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, is seen as semi-divine by many Thais, but this view is hard to challenge when the law can punish anything deemed as an insult or a threat to the monarchy with up to 15 years in jail.
Police say the latest investigation is linked to a high-profile corruption scandal in 2014 involving Pongpat Chayaphan, a senior police officer and uncle of former Princess Srirasmi, the ex-wife of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Srirasmi resigned from her royal post in December at the height of that investigation. Relatives of the former princess were accused of abusing the prince’s name to make money.
Three people have been charged in the investigation so far.
Last month police chief Jakthip Chaijinda presented reporters with photographs of luxury cars, guns, watches and religious amulets that police said were evidence against the three men arrested for allegedly claiming false connections to the royal family for personal gain.
One of those charged, a senior police officer, died in custody. Police said he hanged himself in his cell but refused to do an autopsy.
Since a military takeover last year, more than 50 people have been investigated for royal insults, according to iLaw, a Bangkok-based legal monitoring group.
The majority of these cases have resulted in charges.
(This story has been refiled to insert dropped letters “land” in headline)
Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez