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Tsunami aid theft case totters on



Tsunami aid theft case totters on | Thaiger

PHUKET: More than a year after 2.05 million baht in tsunami aid funds went missing from Phuket Provincial Hall, the police investigation against the sole suspect is still far from complete.

The most recent delays have resulted from the wrong forms being submitted, twice, to the Police Forensic Science Office in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, the man charged with the alleged theft, Apichart Nooprod, continues to work as the Chief of the Finance Division of the Phuket Provincial Financial Office (PPFO).

The 2.05 million baht was first reported missing from a metal strongbox in a locked room at Provincial Hall on February 15, 2005. Police photos appeared to show the box had been tampered with.

On March 11, 2005, however, a parallel investigation headed by then-Vice-Governor Supachai Yuwaboon concluded that the money was lost due to “poor accounting”.

K. Apichart was arrested the following month, on April 22. After he claimed he would not get a fair trial in Phuket, the Phuket Attorney’s Office agreed to transfer the case to the Attorney General’s Office, Region 8 (AG8) in Surat Thani.

Last November, after several months of “miscommunication”, AG8 asked the Phuket Police to resume their investigation and submit evidence so that it could decide whether to lodge court charges against K. Apichart.

On December 20, 2005, Phuket Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura told reporters he would be prepared to repay the funds if, as the CEO Governor, he were found ultimately responsible.

Now, five months after AG8 officials requested more evidence, they are still waiting for it.

Pol Lt Col Sien Kaewthong told the Gazette today that the police are still awaiting results of forensic tests on “samples” submitted to the Police Forensic Science Office in Bangkok.

“The reason it is going so slowly is that we have to work with so many officials. We collected the evidence in December, but twice submitted it with the wrong paperwork. It was finally submitted with the correct documentation in February.

“Now we are waiting for the results. When they arrive, we will forward all the evidence to the prosecutor’s office in Surat Thani, as requested,” he said.

K. Apichart, a 53-year-old native of Nakhon Sri Thammarat, told the Gazette today that he has not been keeping up with progress (or lack of it) in the case.

“I know I am innocent, so I don’t need to know anything about that. How can the police collect more ‘evidence’ against me when I am not the one responsible?” he asked.

He added, however, that he does not intend to sue the police in the event that the case against him is dismissed.

“I just want all of this to end,” he said.

“In the past, I was responsible for [handling] as much as 200 million baht a day in funds; I never tried to defraud the state … It seems as though the police chose me because they were under pressure to make an arrest in this high-profile case. But they never considered how much I would have to suffer as a result,” he added.

He admitted that he lives in fear, too afraid to go out for an evening jog and always looking over his shoulder.

“I would like to thank the press so much for continuing to follow this case, as this helps to ensure that I will get justice,” he said.


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