Suriyan Sujaritpalawong was secretly arrested on or about 16 October 2015. He was charged with lese majeste and died in custody in a secret prison on a military base in Bangkok. His death was not adequately explained and his body was hurriedly cremated.
News of Suriyan’s arrest was only confirmed after social media leaked his name and those of two other suspects and initial denials by the authorities. There was widespread surprise at the arrest as Suriyan was a well-known fortune teller known to be a close aide to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and a chief organizer of the Bike For Mom and Bike for Dad propaganda events for the prince.
On 21 October, the Bangkok Military Court approved a police request to detain Suriyan Sujaritpolwong, 53, alias Mor Yong, a well-known fortune teller, Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, 39, Suriyan’s aide, and Pol Maj Prakrom Warunprapha, 44, an officer of the Technology Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 1. The three men all appeared with shaven heads, with social media saying this was demanded by the prince as an act of degradation.
The junta – the National Council for Peace and Order – laid the charges and the military took the three into its custody “on receiving reports that a group of persons had, on various occasions, cited the high institution to other people for ill-gotten gains in violation of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law.”
Initial reports said Suriyan had “confessed” while Jirawong and Prakrom denied the charges. Within a day, all were said to have “confessed.”
The three suspects were then taken by Corrections Department officials to a temporary prison inside the 11th Army Circle base.
Meanwhile, the authorities froze some of their assets while comparing these cases with those surrounding former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief Pongpat Chayaphan, whose princely criminal network was broken up when his neice, married to Prince Vajiralongkorn was summarily “divorced” and dozens jailed, including most of then Princess Srirasmi’s family.
One of the more bizarre elements of these cases was that these are not persons who can be considered opponents of the monarchy. Pol Maj Prakrom won a scholarship from the Defence Ministry to further his military studies in England and after graduating, served as a soldier at the army’s Artillery Centre in Lop Buri. He later joined the police force and this led him to the Technology Crime Suppression Division and was with the Crime Suppression Division special operations unit when arrested. Prakrom served as an officer in the online crime unit from January until his arrest and was in charge of hunting lese majeste online. Prakrom was reported to have played a key role in the investigation of Pongpat. He also played a role in having Chayapa Chokpornbutsri arrested back in June. She allegedly spread rumors of an imminent counter-coup against junta chairman General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He seems like a loyalist. So was Suriyan. He was a very well known as a soothsayer to the elite and, until recently, was proclaimed close to the prince and many military officers.
A week after they were incarcerated, fears were expressed for their safety. A report stated that “special wardens” were appointed including “military officers and guards from the Corrections Department,” and their task was “to take care of three suspects…”.
The wardens’ key responsibility is to ensure the three men’s well-being during detention, a source linked to the case has revealed. The “special wardens” failed because Prakrom was reported to have died. The authorities claimed that Prakrom hung himself on 23 October 2015. He was said to have used clothing to hang himself, although how he managed this in a secure cell in a military base under the surveillance of military and corrections officers will never be explained. The circumstances of this death were so murky and the official cover-up so complete that it may well have been that he was murdered. Screaming cover-up, the Minister for Justice declared the case closed in less than 36 hours.
Censorship of the media on these cases was immediately stepped up.
At about this time it was reported that Suriyan was sick and hospitalized. The authorities immediately denied this. The authorities did say that Suriyan suffered from high blood pressure and was treated by a military doctor at the 11th Military Circle prison. As rumors swirled, Minister for “Justice” General Paiboon Khumchaya declared that Suriyan was not dead. The General opined: “Mor Yong’s [Suriyan] fine. I don’t understand what caused these rumours.” Paiboon added: “He’s alive and well. We were told he even asked to have rice porridge for breakfast this morning…”
Within a couple of days Suriyan was reported to have failed to appear in court as scheduled and was reported to have been rushed to a prison hospital. The authorities said he was claiming to be suffering a severe headache, stomach pain and difficulty in speaking. They went on to claim that he was faking the symptoms and had him back in a cell.
At about the same time, police were saying that up to 5o military officers were involved in the case and said that the information on this was coming from Suriyan. This was denied by the regime and the police backtracked. Yet the story of military involvement in royal-related activities and associated corruption did not go away.
However, Suriyan was soon dead.
“Justice” Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya waited a day or so and then announced that Suriyan died on either Friday 6 November or the next day. Initially he was reported as saying Friday but the story changed. He was said to have died at the prison hospital of “septicemia.” As with the death of Prakrom, a hasty autopsy has already been conducted. His death was nothing if not convenient for the military who were covering up the corruption allegations.
Suriyan was found in his cell with labored breathing. By the time the authorities took him to the Corrections Department hospital in Chatuchak district at 10.20pm, he did not respond and his pulse could not be detected.
The Institute of Forensic Medicine was said to have performed a hasty autopsy on Suriyan and established the cause of death was respiratory and blood circulation failures due to bloodstream infection. The authorities conceded that their prisoner had been sick for two days with high fever, coughing and was agitated. The explanation of the cause of death sounded unlikely: “Our assumption is he was infected by a germ that caused bloodstream infection and this led to the respiratory failure and quick death…”.
The military junta quickly washed its hands of Suriyan’s death, just as it had of Prakrom’s, and it was business as usual.
We include Suriyan’s case as “convicted” as his death in custody means that there will be no outcome to the case, although we suspect his death will remain suspicious for years to come.
With his dead colleagues, there were claims that they and some police and some alleged red shirts were somehow involved in either and assassination or eavesdropping/spying venture. Who was the target remains unclear.
Media reports on Suriyan’s case:
Khaosod, 19 February 2016: “Police Spokesman Prawut to be Indicted”
AFP, 10 November 2015: “Thai junta chief says military not to blame for custody death”
Bangkok Post, 10 November 2015: “Lese majeste suspect ‘Mor Yong’ dies in army custody”
Khaosod, 9 November 2015: “Famous Astrologer ‘Mor Yong’ Dies in Custody”
Bangkok Post, 9 November 2015: “Mor Yong died from infection”
The Nation, 9 November 2015: “Mor Yong dies of septicemia at prison hospital”
Bangkok Post, 9 November 2015: “Isoc charges colonel with lese majeste”
Bangkok Post, 7 November 2015: “Ratchapakdi Park in CIB graft probe”
Asia Sentinel, 5 November 2015: “Thailand’s Crown Prince Starts Another Purge”
Bangkok Post, 5 November 2015: “Army joins lese majeste investigation”
Bangkok Post, 4 November 2015: “50 army officers tied to case, Srivara says”
Khaosod, 2 November 2015: “Fallen Former Police Spokesman Back in Thailand”
Bangkok Post, 31 October 2015: “Mor Yong back behind bars”
The Nation, 31 October 2015: “Suriyan’s health worsens”
Khaosod, 30 October 2015: “Accused ‘Royal Imposter’ Too Sick to Appear in Court, Police Say”
The Nation, 30 October 2015: “CP tycoon Dhanin’s affiliates to be questioned”
The Nation, 27 October 2015: “Police to reveal all details on high-profile case on Wednesday”
Khaosod, 26 October 2015: “Further Autopsy of Lese Majeste Inmate Unnecessary, Minister Says”
The Nation, 25 October 2015: “Suspect in lese majeste case dead”
Prachatai, 24 October 2015: “Police officer charged with lèse majesté dies in custody”
The Nation, 24 October 2015: “Special wardens chosen to ensure lese majeste suspects’ well-being”
Prachatai, 23 October 2015: “TLHR on the enforced disappearance of the famous fortuneteller”
Bangkok Post, 23 October 2015: “Suspects have assets frozen”
Nation, 22 October 2015: “The rise and the fall”
Nation, 22 October 2015: “Trio confess”
Bangkok Post, 21 October 2015: “Court detains three lese majeste suspects”
Bangkok Post, 21 October 2015: “Prayut vows lese majeste blitz”
Khaosod, 19 October 2015: “Police Announce Investigation of ‘Royal Imposters’”
Prachatai, 19 October 2015: “Thai Police establish lèse majesté investigation team“