“IN RECOGNITION FOR YOUR DISTINGUISHED DEDICATION TO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSION, YOUR PROFESSIONALISM AND COMMITMENT REFLECTS HIGHLY UPON OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT PROFESSION. THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT JOINS YOU AND IS LOOKING FORWARD TO A CONTINUING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DEPARTMENT.”
After being ‘absent’ for some time, well-known crime-buster Police General Sereepisut Taemeeyaves takes up where he left off to clean up Thailand.
Police General Sereepisut Taemeeyaves, Deputy Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, is once again making headlines, both in the local media and international press.
The officer is not out for publicity, however. He is on a crusade against the mafia who extort money, threaten people and inflict huge financial losses to the government in order to put millions of baht into their own pockets. His campaign against the Thai mafia has already resulted in the apprehension of many suspects, some of them government servants and even “men in uniform.”
One of his staff members confided that his crusade against criminals – “whoever and wherever they are” – had come to a halt a few years ago for reasons that no one in his office really wanted to talk about. Pol Gen Sereepisut himself said: “If your superiors don’t give you any important assignment, how can you show your ability?”
His office, located at the Royal Thai Police headquarters, is in a state of controlled chaos, with officials working at all hours while ordinary citizens come to express their grievances and ask for help.
His small private corner is decorated with no fancy furniture, only the cabinets for the files and documents needed to keep him up to date on a large number of investigations.
“I have been in the police force for many years,” said one of the policemen in his office, “but working here is the most active. My boss doesn’t allow much rest. We have to work around the clock. His comeback will definitely benefit our country. He is the worst nightmare for the mafia, and with three years before his retirement, they should brace for more troubles.”
Pol Gen Sereepisut admitted that he is facing an acute shortage of personnel, equipment and other resources. “I need more support from my superiors. For example, I need them to provide me with official vehicles. My staff and myself must arrange our own transportation. I have to ‘borrow’ policemen from other departments, which is not always easy. With more staff, equipment and budget, we could perform our assignments more efficiently,” he said modestly.
Pol Gen Sereepisut’s most well-known case is probably the break-up of the gang that was extorting money from hundreds of street vendors at the Bo Bae garment market in Bangkok.
Pol Gen Sereepisut is also chairman of the Committee Against Roadside Mafia, whose objective is to eradicate the mafia’s activities and overhaul the system at Bo Bae.
He said that extortion had been going on at the market for a long time and that some government officials were involved. This contributed to the perception that they could get away with violent acts.
“That’s why the prime minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Wannasathit made me in charge of enforcing law and order for street vending in the area.
“Since we started the suppression of the mafia at Bo Bae in April, until the crackdown stopped in September, we have successfully prosecuted 93 cases involving 199 suspects. No more offences have been reported after the crackdown. I can say that they [mafia] have gone and no extortion is going on there at this moment. I have a number of undercover men there,” said the officer.
However, some vendors are still pessimistic. Because of their suspicions about the state system, they don’t believe that the extortion gang has been really wiped out.
One garment vendor said: “After a while, when the publicity subsides, the gangsters will return. As far as we know, not even one mastermind was arrested.”
A policeman attached to the local Phlapphia Chai 1 police station said the police know who are behind the extortion racket but they can’t do anything because his underlings do not dare to implicate them for fear of their own safety.
Pol Gen Sereepisut acknowledged that the gang has not been eliminated. “I know that some bad people, including some in uniform, are still roaming around the market, waiting for the opportunity to resume their business, which has made them and the people behind them a lot of money. At this moment they are afraid,” he said.
Inside the market there is a red fan with the written message: “If you are intimidated or asked for protection money, please inform Pol Gen Sereepisut Taemeeyaves,” with a PO Box number, phone numbers and website address.
Vendors at another Bangkok market in Klong Toey also lodged a complaint with Pol Gen Sereepisut about extortion. The officer asked the vendors: “Why are you paying money to the extortionists and why are you afraid of them?” They replied that when someone refused to pay, the gangsters would harass them, so they had to comply with the mafia.
Afterwards, Pol Gen Sereepisut ordered the Thonglor police station, which has jurisdiction over the market, to take “resolute action” against the offenders. A number of them were arrested and some had their assets seized as well. The extortion stopped and everything is quiet there now.
After inspecting street vending locations in many areas of Bangkok, Pol Gen Sereepisut has urged the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to take action against those who obstruct footpaths, as pedestrians are forced to walk on the road and risk being run over.
Another high-profile case that Pol Gen Sereepisut has been investigating and that has drawn much attention from the public is the longan purchase scandal, in which at least 43,000 tons of dried longan went missing from export stocks between July and December of last year.
“The corruption in the price stabilising scheme cost the government 495 million baht. It involves around 3,000 suspects, including businessmen, politicians, civil servants and farmers. Up to now 1,670 have been prosecuted and the remaining cases will be processed by the end of October or early next month,” he said.
Another scandal involved 108 Bangkok Metropolitan policemen attached to the Anti-car Theft Division accused of involvement in the smuggling of stolen vehicles from Malaysia into Thailand.
“The vehicles were subsequently put up for auction through the Customs Department and bought up cheaply, with an eye to resell for profit,” Pol Gen Sereepisut said, adding that the actions of these police officers were serious legal violations that would justify their dismissal. The case is destined for the National Counter-Corruption Commission.
Pol Gen Sereepisut is not afraid of the mafia, and anyone who remembers a time when he fought communist insurgents in Na Kae district of Nakhon Phanom province in early 1970s would be inclined to believe him. The area was one of the most dangerous places in the country. He fought the insurgents both by force and peaceful means, until he won the support of the local population, who extolled him as the “Hero of Na Kae.”
“Therefore, these extortionists won't scare him,” said one of his staff members, who urged people to read Silver Star of the Faith, which describes the life of Pol Gen Sereepisut, including the period when he was stationed at Na Kae.
Despite his well-deserved reputation as a tough and uncompromising man, Pol Gen Sereepisut’s appearance and behaviour is quite humble. At one point he said: “I love to look after plants on my plot of land, to decorate my house and to read. I jog at least eight kilometres each day.”
When he was in charge of the Central Investigation Bureau, Pol Gen Sereepisut ordered all personnel to exercise regularly in Lumpini Park. “Our fitness was periodically checked. He wants his staff to be in good physical and mental condition,” said one of his subordinates at the Central Investigation Bureau.
Pol Gen Sereepisut said that by and large he doesn’t get much support or commendation from Thai officials. So it is a bit ironic that the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department recently honoured him for his distinguished dedication and professional commitment to law enforcement. LA County Sheriff Leroy Baca and Deputy Sheriff Keith Chatprapachai travelled to Thailand and presented him with a plaque bearing a large LA County Sheriff’s badge in a ceremony at the Royal Thai Police headquarters on October 14 of 2005.
The Thai-born deputy sheriff noted that Pol Gen Sereepisut is the first Royal Thai Police officer to receive this recognition. He also said that the Thai community in California, which is very large, had closely followed the officer’s campaign against the mafia.
Asked what inspired him to fight the mafia, Pol Gen Sereepisut said: “When I was young I saw many injustices, and I made a pledge to be a good policeman.”
Two things surprised me when I met with Pol Gen Sereepisuth. First was the tiny size of his office, which lacked expensive furniture and any decoration. The second was his uniform showing four silver stars, signifying the highest rank in the Thai police — but almost no medals or other decorations of any sort. It’s common to see police officers of lower rank displaying all sorts of adornments on their shirts. Known within the force for his humility and high character, Pol Gen Sereepisuth prefers to keep his numerous decorations elsewhere.