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Investigation launched into “stolen’ tsunami victims’ coffins

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Investigation launched into “stolen’ tsunami victims’ coffins | Thaiger

PHANG NGA (Kom Chad Luek): Grave robbery has taken on a disturbing new form in Takuapa, where 11 aluminum coffins intended for tsunami victims were recently reported missing from a storage facility at Bang Maruan Cemetery.

In mid-April, cemetery manager Nitinai Sornsongkram, who is responsible for inventory of tsunami victims’ remains and government property at the cemetery, noticed that 11 of 40 coffins in the storage area were missing.

Saying that both he and Takuapa District Police made frequent checks of the site, K. Nitinai noted that the most recent recorded removal of a coffin from storage was on March 27.

K. Nitinai reported the apparent theft to the Takuapa Police, who have yet to update him on the progress of the investigation, he said.

Estimating the total value of the missing caskets at about 400,000 baht, he speculated that whoever removed the 70-kilogram coffins might have sold them off to a local scrap dealer.

Takuapa District Police Inspector Maj Anant Kuaboonkaew said officers had checked every local scrap shop, without success.

It is impractical to ask scrap dealers to identify the source of all the scrap aluminum they buy, he said.

“Stealing the coffins could not have been easy, because they are big and heavy. Perhaps this is a result of the cemetery’s internal management system. However, we will continue to investigate this case,” Maj Anant said.

However, a source in the Takuapa Police investigation team said that police had evidence that one shop had recently bought a large amount of scrap aluminum that had already been melted down.

A local scrap dealer identified only as “Montri” said that scrap aluminum currently fetches about 70 baht per kilogram, but that no shop would be likely to accept a new, complete coffin as scrap.

“If someone sold the coffins, they must have cut them up first,” he said.

At local rates, the 11 coffins would fetch more than 50,000 baht as scrap.

The remains of 390 tsunami victims are still at the Bang Maruan cemetery pending identification by the Thai Disaster Victim Identification (TDVI) center, which was formerly known as the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification (TTVI) center.

Administered by the Royal Thai Police, the TDVI is tasked with identifying the remains of foreign tsunami victims and repatriating them to their homelands.

On February 29, visiting UK Foreign Minister Meg Munn asked Interior Minister Chalerm Yoobamroong for an update on the TDVI’s work on tsunami cases.

Phuket Provincial Police Commander Maj Gen Decha Budnampetch was subsequently asked to follow up and urge the TDVI workers to report their progress to the Interior Ministry.

The missing coffins were bought by Thailand Tsunami Victim Identification (TDVI) center with funds provided under an 88-million-baht joint donation by countries whose nationals perished in the disaster.

Following a request by the donor countries for an investigation into how the donated funds were being used, the Royal Thai Police Disciplinary Division in February announced that at least one former high-ranking TDVI officer was found as likely to have misappropriated funds.

The officer, Col Pornprasert Karnjanarin, will have until February 8 next year to clear himself of the charges. If he cannot, he faces loss of his pension benefits as well as possible criminal charges.

In an official statement released by Deputy Press Attaché Cynthia A. Brown of the United States Embassy in Bangkok, the US officer working on the case said, “We are pleased to learn that the Royal Thai Police investigation into the possible misuse of TDVI funds is proceeding.

“We encourage the Disciplinary Division to conclude the investigation in a timely manner with regard to allegations of financial misuse.

“We would also like to encourage the TDVI to continue its efforts to identify the few remaining unidentified victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, so that all families who lost loved ones in this tragedy can find closure.”

 

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