‘Joe Ferrari’ case lifts veil on Thai police corruption

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Bangkok (AFP)

A flashy cop with a taste for fast cars falls out of favor following spooky images of a brutal interrogation gone awry.

Not the plot of a blockbuster thriller, but the vivid reality of a story that has gripped Thailand in recent weeks and has shed light on the police corruption that experts say infects nearly every level of the world. the society of the kingdom.

The case of Thitisan Utthanaphon, a former police station chief in a rural province – nicknamed “Joe Ferrari” for his extravagant lifestyle – has sparked calls for reform.

The 41-year-old is charged with murder, abuse of power and other offenses after a drug suspect was suffocated with six plastic bags wrapped around his head in an alleged attempt to extort around 60 $ 000.

The incident was initially hushed up and recorded as an amphetamine overdose until a lawyer revealed the cause of death in a Facebook post.

In a move typical of patronage networks that critics say underlie systemic corruption, Thitisan was later transferred to a regional police station in a neighboring province – commissioned by the father of his TV presenter girlfriend.

But the worst was yet to come for him: Another lawyer posted a creepy video leaked by a young police officer which appeared to show Thitisan suffocating the handcuffed suspect while other officers held him down.

The footage went viral, shocking the kingdom and prompting police to arrest Thitisan and several other officers.

Thitisan denies all charges against him.

Sittra Biabungkerd, the lawyer who broadcast the video, told AFP he did so to prevent the police from “helping each other out” for murder.

“Many people may think that the interrogation of suspects using black plastic bags is no longer continuing because times have changed,” he said.

“But this case shows that in reality it is still happening in secret.”

– Flash cop, fast cars –

Revelations about Thitisan’s wealthy lifestyle and a string of celebrity connections made headlines following his arrest.

Investigators told local media he owned a luxury mansion in Bangkok, a fleet of 42 premium cars including a $ 1.5 million Lamborghini Aventador and had an estimated personal fortune of $ 18 million – the all with a police superintendent’s salary of about $ 1,300 per month.

Activist Srisuwan Janya told AFP that the anti-money laundering authority had been tasked with investigating Thitisan’s fortune.

At a press conference last month, Thitisan Utthanaphon answered questions from the media on a cell phone held in front of a microphone. Krit Phromsakla Na SAKOLNAKORN THAI NEWS PIX / AFP

“It is impossible that a man with a salary of around 40,000 baht could have 40 cars, including luxury cars,” Srisuwan said.

Part of Thitisan’s substantial wealth came from the auction of hundreds of imported luxury cars seized by Thai customs, according to senior officers quoted in local media.

Investigators must submit their findings to the National Anti-Corruption Commission on September 24 before deciding to refer the case to the public prosecutor.

– Reform uphill –

After taking power as army chief in a coup in 2014, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha pledged to root out corruption.

Seven years later, the Joe Ferrari case shows how little success has been done in eradicating police malpractice, and observers have little hope for serious change.

The reform has been a “spectacular failure” as those linked to the top are protected by “protection and favoritism” and whistleblowers are punished or silenced, University analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said Chulalongkorn.

In an attempt to initiate police reform, the government approved a draft amendment to the National Police Act earlier this year.

But the bill remains under deliberation in parliament, moving steadily as committee members – some of them former police officers – haggle over the details.

Since the Prayut administration depends on police support, it is cautious about reform, said Professor Paul Chambers of Naresuan University.

“The only change that the Joe Ferrari case is likely to bring about is for rogue cops to take more care to hide the illegal activities in which they are engaged,” Chambers told AFP, highlighting repeated past efforts to reform the police.

“None have worked and none are likely to do so soon.”

Royal Thai Police Chief Suwat Jangyodsuk blamed the current scandal on “a bad apple”.

But public confidence in the khaki-uniformed police force has long been eroded.

Almost all Thai entrepreneurs, whether their business is legal or not, are used to paying local police just to run – from biker taxis and street vendors to brothel owners and drug dealers.

Images which appeared to show Thitisan Utthanaphon choking handcuffed suspect went viral, prompting his arrest
Images that appeared to show Thitisan Utthanaphon choking handcuffed suspect went viral, prompting his arrest Krit Phromsakla Na SAKOLNAKORN THAI NEWS PIX / AFP

Almost half of Thais said they had paid bribes to the police in the past 12 months, according to a Transparency International study published in November 2020.

And Thailand’s economic crisis, fueled by the pandemic, has only worsened corruption, with the police having more power to enforce laws related to Covid.

Thailand has dropped 19 places in Transparency International’s corruption ranking since 2014, and now ranks 104th out of 180 countries.


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