Officers took Nigerian national James Chukwunweike Chijioke, 27, into custody at a house in Soi Jailek-Samakkee 2 in the Saiyuan area of Rawai at about 10pm last night (Aug 31).
In the house officers found a collection of items later identified as stolen from another house in Rawai on July 26.
The officers named as leading the investigation were Maj Gen Pawat Prommakrit of Region 8 Police, Phuket Provincial Police Deputy Commander Col Akanit Danpitaksarn, Chalong Police Deputy Superintendent Lt Col Sanan Chanrong and Lt Pawarit Panajinaporn from Phuket Immigration.
Chijioke and the items seized were taken to Chalong Police Station, where Sasithorn Tumpan, 39, identified a Louis Vuitton bag and a Corum watch, among other valuables, as stolen from her house also in Rawai on July 26.
A gold bar that also went missing from her house the same day was not among the evidence presented, Ms Sasithorn noted.
Chijioke denied any involvement in the theft of items from Ms Sasithorn and of the robbery and shooting of Ms Kharenko on Wednesday – and police have yet to confirm any charges against him.
Lt Chanat Hongsitthichaikun of the Chalong Police confirmed to The Phuket News yesterday that officers had question Ms Kharenko at Bangkok Hospital Phuket, where she was recovering from the two bullet wounds sustained in the attack – one in the left waist and the other in the lower right leg. (See story here.)
“She was alone in the house at the time, her husband was not at home,” Lt Chanat said.
“Ms Kharenko said she was asleep, but was woken by noises in the house, then she saw the suspect.
“The burglar told her to be quiet, but she screamed, so the suspect pointed the gun at her. That’s when she ran into the bathroom to hide and the suspect opened fire at her, hitting her twice,” Lt Chanat said.
The attack occurred at about 3:30am. Police found three .38-calibre bullet casings at the scene: two in the house and one in the garden outside.
Ms Kharenko said she saw only one man in the house, and that his face was not covered, said Lt Chanat.
The burglar made off with cash, a laptop computer and a mobile phone with a total value of B60,000, he added.
“The robber did take a small safe box, which was found discarded nearby,” he said.
Ms Kharenko had earlier told police that the safe box did not contain any valuables.
Phuket Provincial Police Chief Maj Gen Teeraphol Thipjaoren told The Phuket News that a team of his officers had now joined the investigation, as evidenced by the questioning of Chijioke last night.
“The CCTV in Ms Kharenko’s house was not working, but police have reviewed CCTV from a neighbour,” Gen Teeraphol explained.
Gen Teeraphol did not elaborate on any leads gained from the CCTV footage, or about any vehicle that may have been used in the armed break-in, but he did confirm police were seeking just one suspect for the attack.
Meanwhile Lt Chanat of the Chalong Police told The Phuket News that officers are currently working on three possible motives for the break-in and shooting.
“First is theft, and the second is that Ms Kharenko or her husband were involved in some kind of conflict,” he said.
The questioning of Chijioke for the robbery and shooting of Ms Kharenko follows reports in the media yesterday that police were investigating possible links to Alexei Slabinsky, who was murdered in a botched kidnapping in Phuket in 2014 in which his girlfriend Yana Strizheus amazingly survived. (See story here.)
However, while reports circulated that the third possible motive was that Ms Kharenko had “some sort of relationship” with Alexei Slabinsky, Lt Chanat told The Phuket News yesterday that the interest was directed at the death of 40-year-old Russian national Evgenii Pozhitkov, who was found dead in the kitchen of his pool villa in Rawai in February 2013. (See story here.)
Lt Chanat yesterday admitted, “Ms Kharenko’s relatives believe that Evgenii Pozhitkov’s murder might be related. I am aware of this case. but I have not confirmed that this plays any part in the motive [for Ms Kharenko’s ordeal].”
Of note in the Salbinsky-Strizheus kidnapping-murder, wanted fugitive Matvei Shuvalov, 41, was arrested at an undisclosed location in Phuket in March this year and deported back to Russia to face prosecution for property fraud for charges dating back to 2013.
The arrest of Shuvalov was confirmed by the Russian Embassy in Bangkok.
In late 2014, Russian-language newspaper Vladivostok published a detailed investigative report on Shuvalov’s activities. The newspaper quoted several people who claimed that Shuvalov and his company Matvey Phuket Co Ltd cheated them of USD322,000 (B11.43 million) via fraudulent property deals in Phuket. (See story here.)
Meanwhile, Lt Chanat did confirm that Ms Kharenko was recovering well in hospital. “She is in better condition now,” he said, though declined to to give any more details.
“For now, this case is still under investigation,” he said.