Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya said the ministry is admitting medical examiners from state hospitals to the investigation into the suspect’s death which has triggered speculation about possible foul play.
Thawatchai, 66, was a key suspect in several land fraud cases and was allegedly involved in unlawfully issuing land deeds to wealthy people.
He was arrested in Nonthaburi province on Monday (Aug 29) after having been on the run for almost a decade for his alleged role in numerous land fraud cases in Phuket and Phang Nga.
According to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Thawatchai tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with a pair of socks while in detention on the sixth floor of the DSI’s headquarters on Chaeng Watthana Rd in the early hours of Tuesday. He died later at the nearby Mongkutwattana Hospital.
However, a document issued by the Police General Hospital which performed the autopsy indicates the cause of death was “abdominal haemorrhaging and a ruptured liver from being hit by a solid, blunt object together with asphyxiation from hanging”.
According to Gen Paiboon, the move for medical examiner participation was initiated by Ministry of Justice Permanent Secretary Charnchao Chaiyanukij, who wants other independent agencies to take part in the inquiry into the death of the land fraud suspect and believes the DSI, which is under the supervision of the Justice Ministry, should not single-handedly carry out the investigation.
Gen Paiboon said three DSI officials who were on duty when Thawatchai allegedly tried to commit suicide have been questioned and put through lie detector tests. The results of the tests have not been disclosed.
The justice minister said however the victim’s family was not invited to observe the questioning, so he instructed those in charge to allow Thawatchai’s family to have access to the investigation whenever appropriate.
Mr Charnchao said yesterday that a ministry-level committee will be established to look into Thawatchai’s death and their conclusions are expected within two weeks.
He said the ministry will invite medical examiners from major hospitals to serve as advisers while Thawatchai’s family will be allowed access to every step of the inquiry.
Thawatchai’s body is being kept at the Thammasat Hospital morgue in Pathum Thani after his cremation was postponed, the justice permanent secretary said. However, he noted that a second autopsy may not be necessary.
Thawatchai’s family on Thursday decided to postpone the cremation indefinitely until the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death were cleared up.
DSI Director-General Paisit Wongmuang said medical examiners from Chulalongkorn Hospital, Siriraj Hospital and Rama Hospital will be asked to join the probe.
However, he said the DSI’s internal probe will proceed and the results will be announced when it is completed.
The DSI chief denied security cameras were removed from the detention room on the day Thawatchai died and said the DSI offices are open to inspection.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday he had instructed authorities concerned to ensure transparency in the probe, while urging the public not to rush to conclusions.
“If the circumstances are not normal, they will have to investigate. The justice minister is on the case and I’ve asked authorities concerned to look at it. Just let them work first,” he said.
He also allayed concerns that the land fraud cases would be closed following Thawatchai’s death which has triggered speculation he might have been “silenced” to kill the case investigations.
Gen Prayut said authorities concerned are pursuing the cases and action would be taken against those implicated in any wrongdoing, including both state officials and investors.
Pol Maj Gen Charoen Sirsaslak, Commander of Metropolitan Police Division 2, said the division has launched a probe into Thawatchai’s death.
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