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Former Kaeng Krachan park chief gets 3 years over disappearance of Billy

Former Kaeng Krachan park chief gets 3 years over disappearance of Billy
Written by World Events

Nine years after the enforced disappearance of Karen human rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases sentenced former Kaeng Krachan nation park chief Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn, to three years in prison today (Thursday).

The court found him guilty of malfeasance in office, under Section 157 of the Criminal Code, for his failure to present Porlajee to the police after his arrest for illegal possession of wild bee honey.  Other more serious charges against him, including murder and abduction, were dismissed by the court due to insufficient evidence.

Three other co-defendants, who were park officials under Chaiwat’s supervision, were acquitted, also due to insufficient evidence. Chaiwat was later released on bail.

Responding to the verdicts, Porlajee’s widow, Pinnapa, said, with tears in her eyes, that she is saddened and disappointed.

Porlajee’s case has attracted widespread international attention, especially among human rights organisations. He was last seen on April 17, 2014, when he was detained by park officials, led by Chaiwat, at a checkpoint at the entrance of Bang Kloi village in Kaeng Krachan district of Phetchaburi province.

The police investigation into his disappearance failed to make headway, prompting Pinnapa, his relatives and human rights groups to petition the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) for help in the probe.

The DSI stepped in to investigate in 2019. After tireless efforts, including the deployment of a submersible to scour the bed of a river in the national park, they found an oil drum containing burned remains, believed to be human, which were sent for analysis.

The DSI pressed murder charges against Chaiwat and his three subordinates, but the public prosecutors dropped all the charges in January 2020, citing their doubts about the DNA results. The DSI subsequently appealed the decision to the attorney-general, which eventually led to the indictment of the four park officials on five charges, including abduction and murder, in August last year.

Last December, Chaiwat hit the headlines again when he tipped off the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, leading to the arrest of then director-general of Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, on bribery charges.

Chaiwat was appointed director of the National Parks Office in February.

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