Three more men have been arrested and two surrendered yesterday – including the alleged mastermind – after a gang broke into the home of the top Transport Ministry official last week and made off with millions of baht.
The money was part of more than Bt1 billion (S$41 million) that the suspects claim to have found at the home of Transport permanent secretary Supoth Sablom.
Somboon Riyaten, 40, reported to police in Chiang Rai, while Wanankrit Butkanha, 40, Bunseub Jomkan, 44, and Wuthichai Panthawari, 33, were arrested and some Bt16.5 million seized, police said yesterday.
The alleged ringleader, Chayathat Jannachai, 34, also turned himself in to police along with his mother, Chutima Janphong, who previously served as Supoth’s secretary.
Both were questioned by police, but Chayathat reportedly denied any wrongdoing. Police sources said Chayathat was angry with Supoth, who allegedly fired Chutima six months ago. They believe he plotted the burglary to expose Supoth.
Earlier, two other men were arrested with gold and cash worth almost Bt3 million. They told police they believed more than Bt1 billion – assumed to be ill-gotten – was stashed at Supoth’s mansion.
Police believe more than 10 people were involved in the crime.
They said they had been contacted by Lersak Wiriyakrasap, 51, from Kanchanaburi, about turning in Bt1.5 million in cash that he was holding on request for one of the burglars.
Pol General Panupong Singhara, a deputy police chief, said that four men had confessed to conspiring to do the robbery and that four others were still at large – Weerasak Chualee, 36, one of the suspected gang leaders, Pongsak Namwong, 35, Kamnuan Meknoi, 38, and Prapan Ruangkrua, 32.
Panupong said the gang leader had divided the stolen money up among many people in various places. Police have publicly announced that anyone keeping money for the gang to return it to police or face legal action.
Panupong said Chayatat, 33, had been the key police informant. He surrendered late yesterday.
Police found that Chayatat, who was close to Bunseub, had asked Bunseub to recruit members to take part in the crime. Bunseub contacted the gang leader to search for more men.
Panupong said police had not found any evidence implicating state officials, but did find that one of the suspects, Singthong, alias Seh Kai, was often called by gang members as Seh, denoting a military rank, even though he was not a military official.
Somboon said he was a farmer in Chiang Rai and approached by Singthong to do some work in Bangkok. He said he accepted the job, without knowing it was to rob Supoth’s house.
He only knew about the burglary when he and five others broke into Supot’s house. He said he went into the living room and saw three paper boxes in the closet with a lot of money. He took one box, which contained Bt3 million in cash, and saw two bags in a trolley, which he believed were filled with cash.
He said Weerasak, the gang leader, asked for Bt50,000 out of the Bt3 million he got from the box before they fled.
Following last week’s break-in at his Bangkok home, Supoth was transferred to an inactive post on Friday. He is now the subject of probes into his wealth by the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Anti-Money Laundering Office.
A Transport Ministry source said the break-in at Supoth’s house was plotted by a former official upset at Supoth for transferring her to an inactive post at the Highways Department. The angry ex-official who later left the post was allegedly a close aide who knew Supoth “inside out”. The pair had conflicts later.
“Many people believe the conflict between the two made the ex-official plot the burglary to expose Supoth’s [alleged] wrongdoings. The burglars accepted to commit the crime, as they believed they would only be jailed a few years [if caught]. The burglary would link those involved with the money,” the source alleged.