Former land official in Phuket DSI case found hanged in cell

PHUKET: A former land department official under investigation in Phuket land-title cases allegedly committed suicide while in official custody yesterday.

Tawatchai Anukul, who was under investigation for illegal registration of land deeds for about 1,000 plots in Phuket and Phang Nga, allegedly took his own life. Custody officials said the suspect was found to have hung himself just hours before he was due to appear in the Criminal Court in Bangkok.

Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officials said Mr Tawatchai, a former official of the Phang-Nga Provincial Land Department, had hanged himself by attaching a sock to his detention room door early yesterday morning – a day after he was arrested for wrongfully exercising his duties as an official of the Provincial Land Department.

DSI director-general Pol Colonel Paisit Wongmuang said Mr Tawatchai killed himself due to anxiety and stress after being arrested in Nonthaburi on Monday.

“I believe the suspect committed suicide because he faced a DSI arrest warrant and was also being sued in many cases related to offences involving illegal land-deed registration,” Col Paisit said.

He added that apart from the DSI case, Tawatchai was also being investigated by the Anti-Money Laundering Office over his property, as well as in a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) probe over corruption.

The DSI chief said that Mr Tawatchai was allegedly involved in illegal land-deed registration of more than 1,000 plots of public land in Phuket and Phang-Nga provinces, and that his crime had cost the country more than B10.5 billion.

DSI deputy director-general Pol Colonel Songsak Raksaksakul said Mr Tawatchai was arrested on Monday in Nonthaburi following issuance of an arrest warrant in June. He was detained at DSI headquarters for one night before being sent to the Criminal Court for further sentencing yesterday.

However, Col Songsak said that after interrogation yesterday afternoon, Mr Tawatchai showed signs of stress and ate very little, so officers let him rest in his detention room.

Then when an officer went to that room around 2am, he saw that the suspect had hanged himself, Col Songsak said. The officer said he broke into the cell and had the suspect sent to Mongkut Wattana Hospital but that he died around 4:45am.

“I insist that the DSI has proper detention standards and we would like to express our deep condolences to Mr Tawatchai’s family,” Col Songsak said.

“The DSI will set up a committee to investigate this tragic incident to see if there was any negligence on the officers’ part,” he added.

Col Paisit said that a postmortem would be conducted because Mr Tawatchai had died in custody. Then his body would be returned to his family for funeral rites.

“The criminal offences against him are now nullified because he is already dead, but investigation on money laundering related to his property will continue,” Col Paisit said.

Pol Lt-Colonel Prawut Wongseenin, a director at the DSI’s Consumer Protection and Environmental Crime Bureau, stated that Mr Tawatchai’s death would not affect the illegal land-deed registration cases as the investigation was complete and the DSI had solid evidence against all the defendants.

“The DSI has two special cases involving this suspect, Colonel Prawut told the press.

“These two cases involve illegal land-deed registration in Phuket’s Thalang district and prosecution moves are being made on three companies and three officers, one of whom was Mr Tawatchai.”

According to the DSI, the suspect was being investigated by the NACC in 12 cases related to land documents covering 22 sites. He also faced a 12-year jail sentence issued by the Surat Thani provincial court.

— The Nation

Phuket News

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