BANGKOK (AFP) – A fugitive Thai millionaire wanted on charges including royal defamation broke cover to protest his innocence Sunday in a graft probe that has seen relatives of the crown prince’s wife arrested.
Nopporn Suppipat denied police accusations that he helped orchestrate the kidnapping of a man who owed him money, and said he fled to Cambodia on November 30 after discovering he would be charged under Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law.
“I knew ‘112’ would mean I wouldn’t get bail… I couldn’t take that risk,” the 43-year-old told AFP in a phone interview from an undisclosed location early Sunday.
Under section 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
The comments from the energy tycoon – ranked by Forbes magazine in 2013 as Thailand’s 31st richest man – are the latest twist in a corruption scandal that has rocked the kingdom’s elite and led to the arrest of three relatives of Princess Srirasmi, the wife of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The police corruption case exploded at the end of November when three senior officers – including the head of the elite Central Investigation Bureau – were arrested on a string of bribery charges in the junta-ruled kingdom.
More than 20 people have been arrested so far in the probe as the junta-backed police chief promotes an anti-corruption crusade.
But the investigation has also seen the palace fall under a rare spotlight at a time of deep uncertainty.