PHUKET TOWN: The investigator who headed the probe into the slaying of Danis Wayne Tong testified yesterday in Phuket Provincial Court that the five suspects on trial participated in a murder-for-hire scheme following a fallout between the victim and well-known local businessman Hugo Vandervelde. Pol Maj Preecha Kla-thanong, Chief of the Special Investigations Unit for Phuket Province, told the court that his investigation of the murder led him to conclude that a dispute over debts between the two men culminated in the plan to gun down the 47-year-old Tong shortly after he pulled up to his Rawai residence on the night of June 24, 1997. The witness testified that witness interviews along with evidence gathered during the probe revealed that Tong and Vandervelde were involved in loan arrangements and outstanding work-related compensation totalling 800,000 baht. Vandervelde, a Belgian, was an executive of Thai Flemish Trading Co, Ltd, a Phuket-based food wholesaler with which Tong had close business ties. He is standing trial along with four Thai suspects – Manit Panme, Prajuab Sukkong, Pairat Raksawong and Pratin Praktong – for their alleged roles in the murder. Under questioning by prosecutor Banthoon Thongtan, Pol Maj Preecha testified that Pratin, whom the witness identified as a “relative of Hugo’s [Vanderdelde’s] wife,” brokered a deal on behalf of Vandervelde to hire three of the suspects – Manit, Prajuab and Pairat – to carry out the slaying. The witness said Pratin paid 200,000 baht as a partial payment to the trio, but did not provide the court with any other details of the arrangement. The police officer also testified that Manit, Prajuab and Pairat arrived in Phuket from their homes in Nakhon Si Thammarat to meet with Pratin and Hansa Ramdoung, a former Kathu district police corporal, prior to the alleged murder. During his testimony, the police major said Tong’s common law wife Jamlong Yamsuwan and neighbors told investigators that two men – one trigger man and one getaway driver – had carried out the killing. Defense attorney Surasak Limpanitch, who is representing Manit, the suspected motorbike getaway driver, asked the investigator what led police to suspect that his client, Prajuab, and Pairat were involved in the killing. The witness responded by saying authorities probing the crime were able to establish a link with the suspects through a police source. The witness refused to identify the source when asked to do so by the defense lawyer. Nakin Themrat, the defense attorney representing Pairat, questioned the witness as to why investigators focused on a business conflict as the motive for the killing. Pol Maj Preecha said police first suspected either a business or love conflict, then focused on the former following interviews with key witnesses. A court session scheduled to have taken place this morning was postponed when prosecution witnesses failed to appear. Testimony is scheduled to continue on September 30 at the Nakhon Si Thammarat Provincial Courthouse, and on December 3-4 in Phuket.
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