100 Thais face prosecution for human trafficking

Wanchai Roujanavong revealed scale of alleged trafficking. Picture: AP
Wanchai Roujanavong revealed scale of alleged trafficking. Picture: AP
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Thailand’s state prosecutors recommended charges against more than 100 people, including a Thai army general, in a multinational human trafficking scandal that came to light after dozens of bodies were discovered in the country’s south earlier this year, a spokesman said yesterday.

Ninety-one Thais, nine Burma nationals and four Bangladeshis face 16 charges, including human trafficking, partaking in a transnational crime network, and assisting or bringing in aliens into the kingdom illegally, office of the Attorney General spokesman Wanchai Roujanavong said.

“The investigation showed it is a big syndicate. There were networks that brought them [the migrants] from overseas into the country systematically,” he said. “There were a lot of damages. Bodies were found. Senior officials were accused, as well as influential figures. The office of the Attorney General, therefore, treats it as a very important case.”

Mr Roujanavong said provincial prosecutors have pressed charges against 72 suspects and were waiting to proceed with 32 others who remained at large.

The sweeping investigation, in which 15 Thai state officials were implicated, came after 36 bodies, believed to be migrants from Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Bangladesh, were exhumed from various abandoned jungle camps near the Thai-Malaysian border in May.

More than 50 people were arrested in a month, including local politicians, government officials, police and a senior-ranking army officer who once oversaw human trafficking issues in the country’s south. About 50 police officers in the southern provinces were removed from their posts and investigated for possible involvement in trafficking syndicates.

The 15 state officials, including Lieutenant General Manas Kongpaen, four policemen, a powerful provincial mayor and a number of local politicians, will also face charges of negligence of their duty, according to the spokesman.

Human rights groups have long accused Thai authorities of collusion in the trafficking industry, but officials have routinely denied the claims.

Mr Roujanavong said charges have not been pressed against the other 15 suspects as recommended by police, but additional investigations have been ordered.

Thai authorities are facing international pressure to crack down on smugglers after images of thousands of migrants from Bangladesh and Burma stranded at sea were shared around the world. Migrants were also held in jungle camps under horrendous conditions while awaiting transportation elsewhere.

Mass graves were discovered in an abandoned camp in the southern province of Songkhla in May. Thailand and Malaysia are destinations for Burma’s Rohingya Muslim minority and migrants from Bangladesh.