Thai police apologise after Taiwanese actress ‘extortion’ case
BANGKOK - Thai police have apologised for an incident in which officers allegedly extorted money from a Taiwanese actress who was visiting Bangkok.
The actress, Charlene An, had posted on social media that she was out with friends in the early hours of Jan 5 when the incident occurred.
She said they were travelling in a Grab taxi after a night out in the Thai capital when they were stopped and searched at a checkpoint.
An, 33, said she was threatened with a criminal charge for having a vaping device, or e-cigarette. She paid 27,000 baht (S$1,080) before she and her friends were able to leave.
An’s allegation against the Thai police caught the attention of netizens in both Taiwan and Thailand. Thai police initially disputed her claims, but a fact-finding committee was set up on Jan 26 to investigate the case.
On Monday, the fact-finding panel filed charges against the seven police officers.
It accused them of “committing malfeasance or nonfeasance to cause damage against a particular person or committing dereliction of duty with dishonest intention”.
Also on Monday, the Metropolitan Police Bureau set up another disciplinary panel to probe the seven policemen.
“There are still many good police. We must encourage the good ones and deal with the bad ones,” police General Damrongsak Kittiprapas told reporters at police headquarters on Tuesday.
“I would like to stress that our city has lots of visitors coming. Immigration police, tourist police and local police must take the best care of tourists. And for the incident that has happened, if there is wrongdoing, as the head of the organisation, I apologise to the victims affected by what happened,” he said.
Anyone found guilty will be punished, he added.
Seven police officers from Bangkok’s Huay Kwang Police Station have been transferred and charged with dereliction of duty.
These are two captains, two senior sergeant majors and three sergeants who were at the checkpoint.
The officers have been transferred to inactive positions while an investigation is ongoing, police said.
An had told Taiwanese media last month that the Thai police officers put a vaping device in her hand and that she did not know what it was. She said she was charged with having an illegal e-cigarette device in her possession.
Police subsequently took her into an alley and extorted the money from her, she claimed. The actress also alleged she and her friends had been detained for two hours.
When An dropped the bombshell on the Thai police, several Thai TV stations began pointing to discrepancies in her claims.
Thai media questioned the length of time she claimed to have been detained at the checkpoint and her claim that police had planted a vaping device on her.
Local TV stations broadcast CCTV footage showing that she and her friends were at the checkpoint for 47 minutes, not two hours as she claimed.
They also shared footage showing she owned and used a vaping device before and after being stopped at the checkpoint.
While her accusations were being questioned by Thai media, whistleblowing former politician and massage parlour tycoon Chuwit Kamolvisit jumped to her rescue on Monday.
He said he had a clip showing one of An’s friends handing money to a plainclothes policeman.
He also claimed that the police officers involved had asked for incriminating CCTV footage to be deleted, released those that discredited An, and persuaded the Grab taxi driver to lie about the incident.
In an Instagram post on Tuesday morning, An, who has returned to Taiwan, said: “Thank you BBC and all participating media from Taiwan for taking your precious time to listen & to share the truth.
“Thank you to all for your words of encouragement, support & care to help me walk through this moment of traumatic ‘darkness’.”
The import and sale of e-cigarettes is banned in Thailand and the possession of such devices is unlawful.
Though Thai police do not normally go after users of e-cigarette devices, they are required by the law not to turn a blind eye once they spot anyone having a vaping device in their possession. - THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK