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Perfect storm batters Loong Phol

Written by World Events

Many believed that things would drastically change after the Criminal Court ruling on December 20, but even they had not expected that it would be such a spectacular free fall for Chaiyaphol Wipa, the key suspect in the Nong Chompoo case.

In less than a week, his family’s two YouTube accounts that had a combined subscribers far beyond half a million thanks to frequent clips and livestreams have been mysteriously deleted, and a new account registered as an emergency followed suit within hours. Loyal YouTubers owning other accounts have either gone into the monkhood or publicly pledged to end their activities of attacking his enemies. Major mainstream media outlets have turned completely against him.

The authorities are being urged by former senior police officers to investigate the family’s tax records. Defamation lawsuits against his YouTubers are accumulating. An old money-laundering suspicion is getting fresh attention.

Last but not least, Nong Chompoo’s family thinks the December 20 court ruling finding him guilty of manslaughter and giving him 20 years was too light and will lodge an appeal, presenting him with a legal dilemma.

Chaiyaphol’s defense team had also looked certain to appeal the December 20 ruling. However, an appeal now carries the danger of turning manslaughter into straightforward premeditated murder, an offense that might give him life or lead to execution. Nong Chompoo’s family would insist that he “intended” to kill the toddler by leaving a starving, terrified, extremely weak and defenseless girl high up a mountain where she was impossible to get any help.

His defense team would also have to deal with new pieces of evidence, like a close-circuit camera photo of his car captured at a spot and at a time it was not supposed to be captured. Should or could the police or public prosecutors keep such evidence away from the accused, though?

Some legal experts say yes, pointing out that there are multiple ways to justify emergence of “new evidence”. Also, the police strategy was that a Chaiyaphol appeal would be met with strong and previously-unknown evidence throughout the way. Some believe there are more trump cards against Chaiyaphol if the case goes to the Supreme Court after the Appeals Court.

Now, Chaiyaphol’s defense has a crucial decision to make. Should they appeal against the “severity” of punishment only or should they continue with the He-didn’t-take-Nong Chompoo assertion which was already rejected by the provincial court? Simply put, an appeal can walk Chaiyaphol into a prosecutorial trap.

As for the disappearing YouTube channels, theories abound. Some say there has been a massive “reporting” that made YouTube crack down on them. Others claim there were deliberately deleted by the owners for tax reasons. There are also those who allege that it’s another tactic of Chaiyaphol’s family to gain sympathy through playing victim.

The family’s YouTube channels were used to promote “down-to-earth” activities and yet earn hundreds of thousands of baht from the social media platform and selling products like cosmetic cream and coffee in the process. They were also used to counter criticism or downright accusations against him. In one livestream, he suggested that Nong Chompoo was an unwanted child in her family and had been born simply because her parents did it (sexual intercourse) the wrong way.

In fact, a substantial number of people think that the YouTube channels of Chaiyaphol and his wife Somporn, who was prosecuted for alleged cover-up but was acquitted by Mukdahan’s provincial court, were intentionally deleted to bury sensitive contents like the one in which he attacked Nong Chompoo’s family.

Chaiyaphol’s outbursts, abusive words and weird behaviors were aplenty in the deleted channels. From a “crying man”, he is now a “scolding man”.

Over the past three years, YouTube was Chaiyaphol’s formidable weapon. Not only did he and his wife own channels, his most loyal supporters also had their own accounts. They used their YouTube channels to amass donations, attack Nong Chompoo’s mother and drum up a claim that she killed the toddler herself. On and after December 20, several of them demonised retired senior police officers who spoke on TV in support of the court ruling.

Their comments drew fierce responses from the officers, who filed defamation suits. As a result, one YouTuber went into monkhood apparently in order to cushion the blow. Many YouTubers announced publicly that they would stop attacking anyone for Chaiyaphol, claiming doing so would add to his troubles.

His use of YouTube to protect and enrich himself represents a major problem of social media. As one of the police officers put it, “If wrongly utilised, social media can heap misery on the innocent and help the bad guys.”

Chaiyaphol, aka “Loong Phol” because he was Nong Chompoo’s uncle-in-law, moved his family from Mukdahan to Sakon Nakhon after forestry officials outlawed his giant naga statue, built with staggering donation money. The officials ruled that it was illegally situated on a plot of forest land and the court agreed. Subsequently, he cut the huge structure into five pieces and transported them to Sakon Nakhom with him.

He reassembled the statue on a huge piece of land he bought in Sakon Nakhon. “Parijit Nagaraj” drew more donations from his loyal fan club, and ceremonies took place there on important days. With him as the centre, traditional dancers were hired, worship materials and superstitious souvenirs sold and package tours organised. Coordination occurred largely on YouTube.

When he first built the naga statue in Mukdahan, donors chipped in Bt1.3 million in just a matter of days. Slightly more than half of that money was spent on the construction, and he got angry every time people asked about the rest of the donations. It is estimated that his family received close to one million baht every month from YouTube, and that number did not include product selling and donation soliciting.

Donations also went to other YouTubers, who, like Chaiyaphol, renovated houses and bought new cars. Unlike Chaiyaphol, they did not endorse products, appear on TV variety shows, grace catwalks, join concerts or make music videos, all of them lucrative activities.

A tax scrutiny will be a nightmare. Nobody knows exactly how much money Loong Phol has nowadays. Critics claim the whole country will be speechless if the real number is disclosed. It doesn’t matter how wealthy he is at the moment, though, because, it seems, no amount of money can’t change the course and focus of the current perfect storm.

(Click here and here for more on the Nong Chompoo case)

By Tulsathit Taptim

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