TRIAL VERDICT CHANGED TO PROVIDE FREE ‘SUPER INVESTMENT’ FOR PRIME MINSTER’S ADVISOR & A COMMISSIONER FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE!
– AND ALL IT TOOK WAS THE DEATH OF A BRITISH BARRISTER.
Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and chief legal expert was the person who ordered the fixing of a trial verdict cementing a 3 billion baht (£74 million) financial windfall for fellow corrupt politicians, it is alleged.
Wissanu Krea-Ngam – a man who helped the military re-write the current constitution to weaken the country’s fragile democracy – simply ‘picked up the phone to call the Chief Judge in Region 8 in southern Thailand’ to reverse a verdict in a Phuket Court law-suit.
And, politicians, one an advisor to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and another a Commissioner for Good Governance in the country’s military led quasi-democracy, got approval for their seizure of massive land tracts on the holiday island under development for a world-class resort called the Puravana. And they did not have to pay one single penny – or Thai baht.
The windfall was enabled by the incapacitation and later death of the project’s creator a British barrister called Steven Granville, who was found by the roadside in Phuket with four blows to the back of his head, after he had signed over the project to the politicians to look after for him. A belated police investigation, claims Granville’s family, was a ‘whitewash’.
Granville was initially treated in Patong and Vachira Hospital in Phuket before being medically evacuated back to England where he later died of traumatic brain injury. Medical staff at both hospitals said that Granville had injuries ‘inconsistent’ with a motorcycle accident.
Conclusions reached by retired high-ranking Thai officials including two former Commissioners of Police – and opposition politicians – based on information gathered in southern Thailand – state that the changing of the verdict was a conspiracy to benefit government politicians with Wissanu’s telephone call creating the smoking gun,
When Wissanu was first questioned over a year ago into his involvement he complained it was a ‘political matter’ and best left alone, but the ‘smoking gun’ is documentary evidence of corruption in the courts leading back to Wissanu himself.
For judges bungled the paperwork, while making hurried last minute change, to switch judgment on a 3 billion baht claim against the officials to a verdict in their favour exposing corruption and an alarming lack of separation between the justice system and the state.
After government agencies failed to deliver on promises to investigate – including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Crime Suppression Division and the Department of Special Investigations, Police General Seriphisut Temeyawes, a former Thai Commissioner of Police, who brought down eastern seaboard mafia boss Kamnan Poh, and his Deputy Pol. Lt. General Wissanu Muang Praesi have submitted a formal documented complaint to the current government through the Thai Liberal Party.
This followed the naming of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu as the orchestrator of the court injustice at a meeting at the party’s headquarters. He had been approached and admitted it, it was stated.
An Opposition motion was submitted to the government for the no confidence debate at the end of February. But the government, was not quizzed on the matter after it cut short the debate, causing a walkout adding to an already substantial boycott. Thus the scandal stayed under-wraps.
A petition has also been presented to Salaiket Wattanaphan, the Head of the Supreme Court, specifying unlawful and dishonest acts in the process of justice. But there has been silence.
There has been a lot of debate in Thailand recently about fixed verdicts since a Judge in southern Thailand – Kanakorn Pianchana – took a gun to himself after being ordered to change a judgment in a case in which he believed the defendants were innocent.
In Surat Thani retired Police General Kokiat Wongwarachart former Deputy Commissioner in Bangkok and head of police in Region 8, who has studied the case over six years and spoken to vital witnesses, including police and medical staff at hospitals where Granville was treated, has now thrown up his hands in despair admitting that the local Police chief had admitted that he had made a ‘big mistake’ in his dealings over the alleged motorcycle accident of Granville. Medical staff said Granville’s injuries were not consistent with those of a motorcycle accident.
General Kokiat, who was last week in direct contact with Granville’s parents in England, told them:
‘It seems only YOUR government ministers can help you now.”
Thai Prime Minister General Prayuith Chan-ocha has refused to remove his Deputy Agricultural Minister Thammanat Prompao after he was exposed as being a heroin trafficker convicted in an Australian court and deported after serving four years of a six year sentence. Foreigners caught trafficking in Thailand in a similar mount – 3.2 kilos – would get a life sentence, or death reduced to life.
And the fact that Wissanu Krea-Ngam famously defended his fellow Deputy Minister with the unforgettable :‘Thammanat’s eligibility for a seat in the cabinet is not in question because he is not being prosecuted by the Thai judiciary’ suggests this matter will not go any further.
And, although the British government which represents the interests of Granville’s family has discussed the matter at under-secretary of state level and the Foreign Office has issued two ‘Notes Verbale’ it has yet to show interest in ‘interfering with the judicial affairs of another country’.
Granvile’s mother claims officials have shown a ‘lack of willingness to accept the reality’ and ‘leaping at opportunities to do nothing.’
The politicians who reaped the rewards were Nattachai ‘Odd’ Srirungsukpinit Advisor in the office of Prime Minister General Prayuth; his brother Peerasak ‘Pui’ Srirungsukjinda, a Commissioner to Investigate Corruption and Good Governance, and Praphol Milinthajinda, long time political advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea Ngam, and partner in a financial company with him.
This dream team went into action when Granville faced serious problems after a major Spanish investor in the Puravana had pulled out.
The project had ground to a halt. Other investors were screaming ‘fraud’ and a 400 million bank loan and the sale of his interest in Phuket Yacht Club, billed by Conde Nast as one of the ‘best resort hotels in the world’, was not enough to get him off the hook.
Granville was directed to Praphol representing the brothers Odd and Pui, and a Memorandum of Understanding was drawn up. The brothers would invest the full amount of money needed to complete the resort and Granville would get a share in the profits and a salary of Bt250,000 a month. The British barrister would to have hand over the 580,000 shares, but insisted on a clause that they would have to be returned if the brothers did not invest within a certain time frame. The deal was signed and shares were handed over to Praphol and two female employees of the brothers, who held them as nominees.
Now the sugar cane had entered the elephant’s mouth. The brothers never paid a penny. Had Granville been more circumspect and done more diligence into his new business friends he would not have put pen to paper.
As the deadline for the investment loomed he was panicking. His mother Samantha Simmonds, now 76 and living in North Cornwall, described how he felt he had been set up. He told her that Pui and Odd threatened to put him in prison, and he would never get out. “I think I’ve done a deal with the mafia,” he told her.
Two days before he was found by the roadside in Phuket on March 23 2013 he told his Head of Sales and Marketing Vincent McGowan, 51, a Brit, from Bournemouth. ‘I am going to leave the country or I will end up dead.’
His family believed he had wised to the fact that no promised investment was forthcoming. On the night of his ‘accident’ and two and half hours before he was found on the roadside, he had a midnight meeting with the boss of the Viper Group, which provided security for the Puravana and Pui’s local businesses, reported McGowan, saying the information had been gleaned from Granville’s mobile phone which was later handed by hospital authorities to a Thai girlfriend.
Praphol been Wissanu’s long term advisor since he was Deputy Prime Minister under the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, he was also Wissanu’s partner in AEC securities, a company previously featured in another high profile government scandal – the sensational ‘murder for gain’ of Chinese-Thai millionaire Chuwong sae Tang.
In that case former Deputy Prime Minister Banyin Tankaporn was implicated in the fraud and murder of multi-millionaire Chuwong sae Tang in a staged car accident in 2015. Chuwong sae Tang had been beaten to death and then placed in his vehicle, which was run off the road against a tree.
Afterwards Banyin was accused of transferring some 300 million baht’s worth of shares of shares to young women linked to AECS, a company used to channel politicians’ private income, and of which Wissanu was Chairman and Praphol Managing Director.
Nattachai Srirungsukpinit – ‘Odd’
Nattachai Srirungsukpinit, like Thailand’s heroin trafficking Deputy Agricultural Minister Thammanat Prompao, is not welcome in Australia unless he return’s with a lot of cash.
In August 2012 a judgement was passed down against him in the New South Wales Supreme Court for bouncing a cheque at the Star Casino in Sydney for AUS$4.98 million.
This was this was the biggest cheque and part of a staggering AU$22.9 million his group of Thai Chinese high rollers known as ‘whales’ took down the casino for in bounced cheques. The others were Kok Wah Tee, Nattachai Srirungsukpinij, Somboon Srisombattanakit, Phatsita Kiratiphatthananan, Krairurg Kodcha, Kau Lan, Chin Meng Pun, Vissanu Wiangnak, Pimchaya Wattanakulyothin and Liong Chong Yap.
Peerasak Srirungsukjinda – Pui
Ironically, ‘Odd’s brother Peerasak Srirungsukjinda, is a member of the ‘Commission to Investigate Corruption & Misconduct and Enhance Good Governance’.
Its ironic because he is not only the fixer for police promotions in southern Thailand but runs illegal gambling dens and hostess clubs on the holiday island to which police turn a blind eye. And one of his companies ‘Absolute Power World’ is accused of the illegal importation of unwanted toxic waste from China much to the detriment of his motherland. The case is still in the system.
THE SMOKING GUN
If a case has to be interfered with in Thailand the perpetrator should do it before it it even starts or even at its early stages. There is no verbatim record of court proceedings, only a summary of evidence which the judges speak into a tape recorder, and so local judges can manipulate, or even skip vital bits of evidence if lawyers are not alert, or simply do not object. In his judgment the judge has to refer throughout to the evidence from the tape which is printed out by the court clerk.
But so hurried was the order to reverse the judgment in case 1367/2559, that the actual court judges in Phuket, Sothorn Charoenpanich and Watchara Chanthawara, who had judged in favour of Granville’s family, were in a dilemma because the order only came to them on the day of the case.
There was obviously no time to re-write a 20-page or more judgement which had to be read in court less than an hour.
In fact, so late was the order in coming on the morning of October 29th last year that they had already written the customary ‘Procedure Report’ into the enforcement of their argued decision, having looked to check which defendants and which lawyers had arrived and taken their places in court.
Praphol, they noted, was represented at the trial by his lawyer but the second and third defendants, two women nominees of ‘Odd’ and ‘Nat’ were neither present or represented.
Rather than re-writing the Procedure Report the judges just put a pen though one line in the report, (see below) which reversed the verdict – and then told the plaintiffs they had lost. They left the doctored procedure report either mistakenly or deliberately for the others to see.
The line they crossed out gave the second and third defendants 30 days to be informed of and comply with the judgment.
Had the lead judge read out the actual judgment, as is the proper procedure, he would have given a full and legal account as to why the politicians had lost.
Sothorn mumbled something along the lines that the case should never have been brought (although it had been accepted for trial and in the court for two years) and then followed his comments with the now amended Procedure Report omitting the vital sentence.
At this Judge Watchara Chanthawara got up and walked out of the court. In the courts annual reshuffle earlier this month Sothorn applied to go to Surat Thani. Watchara applied to go to Bangkok.
The Police Inquiry
Thai Police can be forgiven for initially reporting Granville’s death as a motorcycle accident. Granville never spoke again. And after the initial emergency treatment at Vachira Hospital he was medically evacuated back to Britain having numerous cranial operations before his eventual death. Motorcycle accidents are the single biggest cause of unnatural death for foreigners in Thailand and for police it would have been mere paperwork. They had neither perpetrator or victim.
On the other hand the only evidence to support a motorcycle accident was the presence of Granville and his motorcycle. There were no other injuries to Granville apart from the blows to the back of his head, no scratches, or multiple fractures of limbs – and no damage to his clothing. No rips or dirt not even to his white Chinos. His motorcycle had no signs of accident damage.
And medical staff both at Patong Hospital, where he was initially taken by a Thai ambulance foundation as a motorcycle accident victim, and at Vachira Hospital, to which he was transferred, have stated that those blows to Granville’s head were not consistent with him ‘turning over his motorcycle’ – the cause put down in a police report.
It was not until 2019 that Thai police in the form of TACTICS (Thailand’s Action Taskforce for Information Technology Crime Suppression) instigated a ‘top level’ investigation after publicity in the Thai media reporting Vincent McGowan’s claims.
But the investigation was merely passed back to local police who accompanied McGowan back to the murder scene – a straight stretch of the road running from Kata to Rawai.
The family believe Granville was attacked elsewhere and then brought to the scene with his motorcycle. But by 2019 there was no motorcycle to do forensics on. The accident victim was dead and the whole area had gone through five rainy reasons.
Police did not go to the Vachira Hospital to speak to lead nurse Methavee Maneesra or the medical team. They failed to find Granville’s ex-girlfriend, who said she had Granville’s smart phone recording his midnight meeting, and they could not find his computer.
Nurse Methavee, who worked in the hospital administration had deliberately saved her notes from the day of the alleged accident, McGowan said, because not only had the doctors concluded that Granville’s injuries were not consistent with a road accident but there had been a lot of interference early that morning from ‘influential people’.
Pui had turned up in person requesting Granville’s medical report saying he would pay the bill. The hospital happily took 74,000 baht from his bank card but refused to allow him a copy of any medical records. He still insisted on hanging around, said Methavee.
This was followed by a phone call from Odd who again asked the hospital to show Pui the medical records as he was a very important person in government.
Methavee said with some 28 years experience of motorcycle and car accidents she had also never herself seen such injuries and agreed with doctors. Then with McGowan present she called the Police office called Sataporn, who she dealt with at the time of the accident. He had been transferred up country to Udorn Thani but remembered the case well as there was a lot of talk of the Pui and Odd taking over Granville’s land as it was the biggest project on Phuket.
Sattaporn said he was not the case officer but was the Desk officer at Karon Police Station when the ‘accident’ was reported in and his name was on the report because he filled in the log. Later he had been asked to go to Patong Hospital to get the doctor there to fill in the doctor’s report section on the accident form.
“ Sattaporn said the doctor refused to endorse the concept of an accident as he did not agree with it and in accordance with police and hospital protocol he wrote his opinion, that it was not an accident, on the reverse of the report, adding the point on the reverse of the police report, that this incident needs further investigation.Vincent McGowan
Methavee then looked though her note and gave me a photocopy of the police report sent to her by Sataporn. This report clearly showed the signature of Sataporn alone with signatures of other senor Karon police officers, but on the back of this report it was blank, the doctors notes were not copied there.”
Methavee said: “I cannot make a comment to journalist but if the police or authorities contact me on this matter I can help. All I can say is that we have given police the medical report and that cannot be changed.”
The British Embassy in Bangkok and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London have a 50-page police report and numerous requests from Samantha Simmonds, her husband Trevor, and Vincent McGowan to push the case of the barrister’s fate in Thailand.
But in the absence of confessions and with no forensic evidence or on the spot witnesses it is clear that no prosecution could ever go ahead.
Meanwhile Vincent McGowan is under Covid lockdown in Hua Hin. His passport has been taken from him by Phuket Court as Praphol is now countersuing.
“Praphol’s lawyers have told me I will not get it back unless I make an undertaking not to appeal the current verdict. The court have informed my lawyer that I must submit a deposit of 3 million baht for the appeal to be heard. I have 4,800 baht to my name. But I will win in the end.”
This story is about corruption in the Thai government and corruption in the courts. People are entitled to ask, and of course will ask. Show us your proof. What are the sources on that phone call and the Deputy Prime Minister’s stated ‘admission’?
The answer is simple. To identify sources in stories such as this in Thailand is no longer an option. It puts other people in danger making them the potential victims of institutionalised harassment; which are the country’s criminal libel laws under the computer crime act – the now almost automatic fall-back of those accused of malfeasance in Thailand – and, of course, potential imprisonment. So, information has been held back.
But the court documentation absolutely confirms the corruption and its availability was due either to an act of idiocy or act of bravery.
I have spoken to many people. Should I identify them? I could be certainly causing them serious problems. But they remain prepared to back up their allegations ‘if the right people call’. Had I written this from inside Thailand I would myself find on the sharp end of government action. Thais have been arrested and jailed for sharing Facebook posts even BBC stories.
Democracy has been radically eroded by both the military and their ‘legal eagle’ Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam. And, ironically, the villains of the peace in this story, including Wissanu, are in the main are former members of the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.
The fact they have supported two diametrically opposed regimes is proof enough that they are not in the game for their political ideologies – but for themselves.
I was based in Thailand for some 26 years covering southeast Asia as a registered correspondent for the Observer, The London Evening Standard and the Times and freelancing for newspapers and radio and TV worldwide. For the most part it was a delightful experience, while some of the stories were harrowing, the Asian Tsunami, bombings in Bali, coups, air crashes, and particularly gruesome murders, on occasions committed by police officers.
In the latter years, however, I had something of a re-awakening. Things were changing. Thailand was becoming a haven for foreign criminals, and the military was back in control, and while I was able to ‘out’ many of the foreign criminals this became increasingly hazardous as their links to influential people became even stronger.
Just as other correspondents have left to write freely about Thailand I left because foreign criminals increasingly had not only Thai law enforcement in their pockets but also immigration, money laundering and notable government agencies and I was raising three children.
It’s just the way it is in an otherwise delightful country. Most Thai hate this as much as I do, and they look forward to the day when they do have rights, the legal and education systems are really reformed, and the police and army give up their rackets.
Meanwhile I must salute Vincent McGowan who has exposed himself to risk for many years fighting for the family and other investors. He has a GoFundMe page.