Further updated: The company they keep

6 02 2021

Readers might have noticed that the Bangkok Post had a story about police arresting Sia Po Po-arnon – aka Apirak Chatharnon and Apirak Anon- described as “a net idol, former celebrity boxer, former House adviser on gambling…“. He was taken in on “charges of organising online gambling.”

At his house, it is reported that “police also arrested his follower, Pacharapol Chansawang, and 25 Myanmar workers, and seized a gun and 11 bullets for examination.”

We don’t usually follow “celebrity” news, but this one got our attention because of his links to the regime and royalism.

Clipped from the Bangkok Post

It was in August last year that “a House working group on whether to legalise online gambling invited … [Sia Po] to participate in its deliberations as an adviser.” At the same time, Palang Prachachat appointed “another possible [sic] gambling tycoon Pol Lt-Colonel Santhana Prayoonrat to advise the task force…”.

As we recall it, it was a regime party that issued the invitation for Sia Po. It came from “Palang Pracharat Party MP Arun Sawasdee” who wanted advice the committee because Sia Po had “earned a name for himself for being a successful gambler in international casinos.”

The international gambler said: “I will accept the position of adviser, but will not get into politics” before saying he didn’t accept it. With such vagaries, who knows what was really going on. What we do know is that the military’s party was inviting gangsters to advise them.

What kind of dark influence is Sia Po and how does he fit in with the great and the “good”? We only searched the Bangkok Post and came up with plenty.

The first report we found was from early 2018, when he was arrested at the home of Wiphakorn Sukpimai when he claimed he “answered a distress call from her…”. He said his arrest was a set-up as she had “lent him more than 50 million baht in a gambling venture and now want[ed] the money back…”. Describing him as a “celebrity boxer and social media personality,” he was said to be armed.

He seems to have been engaged in some kind of standover operation and was in dispute with the equally shady Wanchalerm Yubamrung also over gambling money. Sia Po and Wanchalerm are Thonburi gangsters.

Not long after, Wiphakorn “posted images of her former lover, Sia Po …, taking drugs. She added she was helping police with inquiries into claims that Sia Po and his ‘gang’ liked to give unwitting victims drugs, film them secretly, and blackmail them.” Sia Po later admitted that the images were of him, but claimed he was in Cambodia at the time.

The next time we see him in the press is as a leader of a vigilante group and behaving very much like a mafia gangster, “demanding 24 men detained there for Sunday’s intrusion at Mathayomwatsing School apologise for disrupting the university entrance exams.” He led a gang of “about 100 supporters,” declaring that the “men who raided the secondary school had defied the law. He and other people from Bangkok’s Thon Buri area decided to visit the men and warn them about their behaviour.”

In another pro-law-and-order stunt, in late 2019, Sia Po was associated with a “100 million baht cash handout to flood victims in the Northeast, money he claims was raised from unnamed casinos across the border.” He posted images of himself “unpacking bundles of used 1,000 baht notes ready to hand out to flood victims.” Some said he was “trying to rehabilitate his image” after the drugs, standover, money laundering, and gambling events described above. He was supported by arch-royalist Bin Bunluerit.

Somehow or other, the next time we see him, SIa Po is promoting a skincare product and then complaining that “fraudsters on the net are impersonating his name in the venture and siphoning off customer’s money.” They must have been either brave fraudsters, willing to risk the wrath of the Sia Po gang, or in cahoots with him in scamming the public. But, the plot thickened. He trotted off to the police saying “11 customers had been deceived with total losses of about 10,000 baht.” Really? And he offered a reward 10 times that amount. Fishy? You bet.

Then, in May 2020, we find Sia Po at odds with Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s supporters. A couple of weeks later, described as “well known as a donor to worthy causes,” he’s blaming “a falling out with a politician for his latest troubles with the law, after police told him he is facing money laundering charges stemming from an online gambling case.” He grumbled that the unnamed politician had “tampered with a picture online to make it look as if I was bad-mouthing the monarchy, and took an old clip of me encouraging Thais to gamble and spread it about the net to defame me further…”. In tru godfather style, Sia Po said “he was confident his case doesn’t qualify as money laundering.” He “explained: “It’s true that I gamble across the border, but Thai law doesn’t apply there and I don’t bring the money back.”

Soon after, Sia Po “was arrested after he turned himself in to police for questioning about a wild shootout in Bangkok in which two men were wounded.” He went to the police station at 3am, with “Santhana Prayoonra, a former deputy superintendent of Special Branch Police.” It is standard practise for influential persons to get influential police or military figures to attend police stations with them – it is about pressuring smaller people.

It is stated that Santhana:

was sacked from the police force for serious disciplinary violations and stripped of his rank, effective Oct 31, 2002, and his royal decorations were recalled. The announcement was published in the Royal Gazette on Oct 30, 2018, as reported by Thai media.

The report states Sia Po: “was accused of shooting and wounding two men in front of Saree Sauna&Spa shop on Ratchaphreuk Road in Bang Wa area, Phasicharoen district, on Tuesday night.” This happened as rival gangs met. Sia Po told police:

… he was a regular customer at the massage shop. He was there with three friends. His brother Khemmathat had made an appointment with two rival men, identified only as Tang and Tua, to meet at a liquor store on the same road, not far from the massage shop.

The talks broke down and afterwards Mr Khemmathat and about 10 friends came to meet him at the massage shop….

A shootout ensued, apparently involving more than 200 gang members and scores of shots fired. Of course, Sia Po claimed he was unarmed. Even so, police “arrested him on charges of colluding in attempted murder, illegal possession of a firearm, carrying it in public and firing shots.” Two men were taken to hospital, one shot in the mouth and another shot in the backside.

He was released on bail, with Santhana acting as “guarantor.” It is stated: “The Thon Buri Criminal Court granted him temporary release on bail with a surety of 350,000 baht. No conditions were set for his release.”

Royalists together

Not long after, Sia Po “found himself an unwitting accomplice after a disgraced senior policeman accused a well-known rescue worker of helping himself to public funds.”

It all revolved around a royal donation/self promotion scam campaign: “Sia Po had offered to donate money to a royal fund-raising project at Siriraj Hospital after he was contacted by Bin Binluerit … asking if he would like to help…. In return for his cash, the hospital, which is raising funds for a building in honour of King Rama IX, would issue pink T-shirts with the royal insignia for Thais to wear.”

It is all way too complicated – the royal association makes for weird reporting – but it seems Sia Po said he would stump up “20 million baht to help Thais wanting to turn out to see His Majesty.” We assume the live king, not the dead one. It also seems that the company supplying the shirts for Siriraj had produced hundreds of thousands and was not shifting them. Not by coincidence, the businessman behind the Siriraj scheme was reportedly the owner of the factory pumping out the shirts. So big buyers were needed to shift the royal shirts (not an unusual practice). Sia Po was to take 300,000.

But the whole scam scheme came undone when “Sia Po was arrested for the shooting outside the Saree Sauna&Spa shop…”. When he was bailed, his:

guarantor was his friend Santhana … who was to play a role in the hospital funds drama…. In May 2018 he was also charged with extorting money from vendors at Don Muang New Market. Sia Po found that with the legal case pending he could no longer transfer funds….

Reportedly, as happens in gang wars, Santhana began to lean on Bin. Using his connections in the police, and said to be accompanied by Sia Po, “Santhana … asked police to look into Bin’s role in the fund-raising effort.” As expected in a corrupt set of arrangements involving police, the dismissed Santhana:

… saw the newly appointed national police chief, Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, on Dec 9, and … followed that up with a visit to the Crime Suppression Division where he sought to lay charges against Bin of attempted fraud, asking for donations without consent, Computer Act offences, and making false claims on behalf of the monarchy.

The Post account added “a new twist to a strange affair” with Sia Po and Santhana suddenly donating “2 million baht to Siriraj Hospital’s fund-raising campaign, along with 20,000 pink T-shirts to be distributed to the public.”

Still described as a “net idol and former celebrity boxer,” Sia Po then took up his role as “adviser” to a “working group of the House select committee on law, justice and human rights, which is mulling changes to the gambling law,” pitching for legalized online gambling. With a straight face, Sia Po explained that his role was not political: “I don’t want to mess with politics. I want to protect my honesty…”. The honest crook’s role was explained:

Arun Sawasdee, Songkhla MP from the Palang Pracharath Party, who sits on the panel, said MPs wanted to know if online gambling could be controlled better.

Members invited Sia Po, who faces charges of money laundering and enticing Thais to gamble online, and is well known for his ties to casinos across the border, to speak to MPs, because of his “knowledge” in this area.

Guess who else was invited to provide information to the panel: “They also invited another city identity with a colourful past, former deputy superintendent of the Special Branch Police Santhana Prayoonrat, to testify.” What a surprise!

This is not an unusual situation. What is unusual is the level of reporting. We have only scratched the surface in one English-language newspaper. It tells us how deeply-rooted corruption is within this regime. We do not say that similar situations were not evident in earlier regimes, but this story well and truly shows the links between regime, police and criminals (dark influences). Put this together with a regime party that has deputy ministers who are convicted heroin traffickers and political quislings and you see that the whole structure is rotten to the roots.

And the rottenness infects everything right up and into the palace. Older readers will recall that Prince Vajiralongkorn had to repeatedly deny his involvement with crime figures.

Update 1: A reader asked for a source for Vajiralongkorn denying he was a mafia boss or associated with criminal gangs. Here’s a UPI report.

As we finished the above post, another gambling report came out in the Bangkok Post. This report concludes with this:

The CIB chief made it clear this police action had nothing to do with the arrest of Siapo Po-arnon, a professed gambler who advised a House panel on the possible legalisation of online gambling.

Siapo, real name Apirak  Chat-anon, 29, was arrested at his house on Phetkasem Road in Phasicharoen district of Bangkok on Thursday morning. He allegedly operated an online gambling website.

Maybe. It sure sounds like a scam he’d be associated with and the arrest sounds very similar to Sia Po’s own arrest a few days earlier. Perhaps it is just the police cleaning out competition for their own scams? Who knows, this is murky and getting murkier. There are interesting elements to the report. One is that the information is coming from Pol Lt Gen Torsak Sukvimol, the CIB chief.

Last time we saw his rank, Torsak was deputy head of the CIB. Now he’s reported as boss. Of course, he’s also head of the king’s “Ratchawallop Police Retainers, King’s Guard 904.” He’s also reported to be the “younger brother of the King’s highly trusted Air Chief Marshal Sathitpong Sukwimol (secretary to the Crown Prince, Director-General of the Crown Property Bureau and the Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau).”

Torsak stated that the operation had “more than one billion baht in bets in circulation…”.

Update 2: It is reported that, following his arrest last week, Sia Po remains in jail, denied bail. It also reports that his mother is being sought by police for involvement in his schemes and scams. While all of this is interesting and reflective of the deep-rooted corruption among the elite in Thailand, we can’t help wondering about royal involvement. This feels somewhat like earlier purges of powerful criminals following falling out at the top. No evidence, just observing a feeling we have.


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