DSI fails to prove itself

(Bangkok Post Editorial, 10 August 2006)

The DSI has made very little progress in unravelling the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Muslim lawyer on March 12, 2004.

The assurance from chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Pol Gen Sombat Amornwiwat, that the death of two suspected killers of environmentalist Charoen Wat-aksorn would not hamper investigation into the murder case did little to reassure or comfort the victim's family or human rights groups. Charoen's surviving widow and human rights groups have repeatedly complained about the lack of progress on the part of the DSI in resolving this high-profile case. Although three other suspects, a father and two sons of the Hinkaew family, have also been arrested in connection with the case, they believe more influential people who are the real masterminds were involved, and that the DSI might never be able to lay its hands upon them. Their disappointment over the dismal performance of the DSI has been compounded by the curious and untimely deaths of the two suspected gunmen, reportedly from disease while in prison. These deaths have deprived the authorities of the chance to obtain further information from the two alleged killers which might have led to the exposure and, possibly, the arrest of the real masterminds.

Although the DSI claimed it had some evidence linking the three Hinkaew family members to Charoen's murder, none of the human rights groups nor the victim's relatives were confident that the three suspects would be convicted, as the evidence available was reportedly too weak to serve as sufficient basis for a court order.

Despite the two suspected gunmen's confessions they had acted on their own, there was good reason to believe the environmentalist was killed on the instructions of some influential figures in Prachuap Khiri Khan whose vested interests were obstructed by Charoen's selfless campaign against public land encroachment. The victim was shot dead at Bo Nok bus terminal the day he returned home from Bangkok, where he had testified before a Senate committee on illegal land-grabbing in the coastal province. It is a great pity that the local police and the DSI opted to fall for the flimsy theory that the murder was motivated by a personal conflict.

The DSI's poor performance has also been evident in two other high-profile cases _ one involving Somchai Neelaphaijit, a Muslim lawyer who played a key role in defending several suspected southern militants; and Phra Supoj Suvacano, a conservationist monk in Chiang Mai who was stabbed to death in June last year, reportedly for his leading role in protecting public land against encroachers in search of land for tropical fruit plantations.

The DSI has, so far, made very little progress in unravelling the mystery surrounding Somchai's disappearance on March 12, 2004. Only one police officer involved in the case has been convicted of a lesser charge; four others were acquitted. Yet, the case remains shrouded in mystery, with authorities concerned reluctant to discuss it in public. The murder of Phra Supoj was outrageous, as the victim was a monk well known for his resolve to protect fertile public land against greedy land-grabbers, most of them local influential figures. And Fang district of Chiang Mai, where Phra Supoj's temple is located, has in recent years earned the enviable reputation of being a big producer of tangerines. A large tract of forest land in the district has been turned into tangerine orchards, now allegedly owned by influential businessmen. Strangely though, the DSI has been unable to arrest a single suspect in the monk's slaying.

Hailed as Thailand's equivalent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Special Investigation was established in 2002 within the Justice Ministry and given the task of handling complex and complicated cases which, if processed by the police, might not be properly or fairly handled. But unlike its US counterpart, the DSI has yet to prove its worth as an effective law enforcement body. And unless its dismal performance improves, it will never win public recognition or respect.


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