BANGKOK — All four suspects arrested under suspicion for murdering a Karen land rights activist were released on bail Tuesday.
Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, and three other suspects turned themselves in at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) yesterday after the court approved their arrest warrants on Monday. Kaeng Krachan park is where the bones of Karen land rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen were found submerged in an oil drum September.
DSI deputy chief Pakorn Sucheewakul said the suspects denied all charges after they were interrogated for over three hours. They were previously charged with premeditated murder of Porlajee, comcealing his body, detaining, robbing, and threatening him with weapons.
Chaiwat, 55, and his aides Bunthaen Butsarakham, Thanaset Chaemthet, and Kritsanaphong Chitthet were then taken to the court where they were released on bail for 800,000 baht each.
Speaking to the media after posting bail, Chaiwat said he and his aides are innocent. He believed that he has been accused of murder because of high-profile arrests made during his tenure as the national park chief.
He said he will go to the suspension bridge inside Kaeng Krachan National Park – where bone fragments belonging to the Karen activist was found burnt and submerged in an oil drum – on Saturday to swear his innocence.
Chaiwat, who currently serves as the head of Protected Area Regional Office in Ubon Ratchathani, also questioned why the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases was handling his case, since they usually deal with cases related to graft and malfeasance.
“I don’t understand why they pursue criminal charges through the anti-graft court, rather than the criminal court,” Chaiwat said. “I ask the media to keep monitoring this case carefully.”
Billy’s widow Pinnapha Phrueksapan said on Tuesday that she was worried to hear that the suspects were freed on bail.
She told reporters that she has experienced intimidation by unidentified men in the past, but she respected the court’s decision as her evidence might not be concrete enough.
“I will pursue the case further as long as the final verdict has not been made,” Pinnapha said.
Activists had previously accused then-director Chaiwat of engineering the disappearance of the Karen activist.
Chaiwat and several park officials briefly detained the land rights activist on April 17, 2014 to reprimand him for “wild honey theft” but claim they later released him without charge.
Billy, a campaigner for community rights, has not seen ever since. His friends and family feared the 30-year-old activist was abducted and murdered for his opposition to the government’s eviction efforts.