Kamnan Poh, ‘Godfather of Chonburi,’ Dies at 82

CHONBURI — One of the most politically, economically and criminally influential men in Thailand’s east passed away on Monday.

Somchai Khunpluem, better known as Kamnan Poh or village headman Poh, succumbed to cancer at 3am Monday at Samitivej Chonburi Hospital.

“I love you, dad. #RIP,” Kamnan Poh’s son Narongchai Khunpleum wrote on Facebook Monday morning.

Kamnan Poh rose from humble origins to become an entrepreneurial and political force in Chonburi. From his local stronghold, he supported businesses that enabled the area to flourish, and decisively endorsed politicians vying for seats in the region. He even once took up the post of mayor of Saen Suk district.

Kamnan Poh was also known as an organized crime boss. In 2003 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for hiring a gunman to murder Prayoon Sithichote, a neighboring village headman. He was also sentenced to five years and four months in prison for corruption over the purchase in 1992 of a protected 140-rai area (22.4 hectares) in Khao Mai Kaeo tambon with intentions to convert the land into landfill.

The local “godfather” evaded capture for some time after the appeals court upheld the murder verdict in 2006, until he was caught by police in Bangkok on January 30, 2013 at a motorway toll gate. He began to serve his combined sentence of 28 years and four months, which was later reduced to 11 years and six months.

Kamnan Poh arrives at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on January 30, 2013, after his capture by police on the same day.
Kamnan Poh arrives at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on January 30, 2013, after his capture by police on the same day.

He served four years and nine months before he was released from prison in 2018 on humanitarian grounds, being in the last stages of colon and lung cancer.

Poh’s son and mayor of Pattaya city, Sontaya Khunpleum, has said a funeral service will be held at 3pm Tuesday at Wat Chaeng Charoen Don in Chonburi city. Sontaya has headed various government ministries under the Thaksin, Yingluck, and Prayuth administrations.

Sontaya’s four siblings are similarly influential. Witthaya Khunpleum is chairman of the Chonburi Football Club. Itthipol Khunpleum is a former Pattaya mayor. Narongchai is the current mayor of Saen Suk – like father, like son.

In a November 2002 interview with Puu Nam Thong Thin magazine, Kamnan Poh expressed disliked for his moniker.

“I detest the word, ‘godfather.’ You all gave me a mafia name. My political rivals have nothing with which to fight me in society and development, so they brought up this point to attack me,” Kamnan Poh said.

Kamnan Poh escorted by police in Bangkok on January 30, 2013, after his capture on the same day.
Kamnan Poh escorted by police in Bangkok on January 30, 2013, after his capture on the same day.
An undated file photo of Kamnan Poh ill while in prison.
An undated file photo of Kamnan Poh ill while in prison.