BMA Dawdles Over Legal Action Against Celeb Party Virus Cluster

A 2017 file photo of Techin “DJ Matoom” Ploypetch.

BANGKOK — No one has been held responsible so far for a celebrity’s birthday party blamed for at least 24 coronavirus infections, officials said Thursday.

The party, held on Jan. 9 at Banyan Tree Hotel on Sathorn Road, appears to be in contravention of the government’s order that bans gatherings and banquets amid resurgence of coronavirus outbreak. It was attended by celeb talk show host Techin “DJ Matoom” Ploypetch, and guests are believed to include singers, actors, and talent managers.

But despite calls for legal action from key government officials, police said they cannot do anything since no one has come forward to file a complaint – a contrast to swift prosecutions of more than 100 people, most of them foreigners, caught at a party on Koh Phangan last night.

“We must wait for competent officials under the Communicable Diseases Act to file a police report,” Metropolitan Police Division 5 commander Sophon Saraphat said.

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Social media photo of Techin “DJ Matoom” Ploypetch at the Jan. 9, 2021, birthday party held at Banyan Tree Hotel.

“This case requires specialized knowledge from experts or officials from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, or the health ministry, as they have the power to prosecute [the violators] under the law.”

The Department of Disease Control said it has instructed the City Hall to investigate and prosecute the hotel for allowing the rooftop party to be held, in clear violation of the pandemic laws.

“The hotel and individuals who attended the party may violate the Emergency Decree, which prohibits activities or mass gatherings that may lead to widespread infections,” director Sophon Iamsirithavorn said.

Failure to abide by the decree is punishable by up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of 40,000 baht.

An officer picking up the phone at the BMA disease control division said officials are still deliberating on actions to be taken against the hotel and partygoers. The person gave no information on when the decision will be taken.

Officials inspect a rooftop restaurant at Banyan Tree Bangkok Hotel.
Officials and police on Jan. 28, 2021, inspect a rooftop restaurant at Banyan Tree Bangkok Hotel where the Jan. 9 birthday party was held.

The Banyan Tree Hotel declined to comment. Staff at the hotel said the management will make a formal statement on the matter at a later time.

Local police also inspected the hotel earlier today, but made no attempt to take action against the establishment.

The snail-pace response from the authorities is in contrast to other crackdowns under the same law. Dozens of pro-democracy activists who held rallies against the government were arrested and charged in recent weeks for allegedly violating the Emergency Decree’s ban on gatherings.

Law enforcement officials in Surat Thani province on Wednesday night also raided a bar on Koh Phangan and arrested 111 partygoers for breaching the gathering ban, including 89 foreigners.

Contradicting Timelines

The BMA previously accused some of the infected partygoers of refusing to reveal their travel history to health officials – an allegation later disputed by the patients themselves.

A report published by the BMA earlier on Wednesday morning said four patients – designated by their case numbers as 645, 647, 657, and 658 – “refused to disclose the information” about some of the venues they visited.

But after the news broke, Krit Phantham, the leader of AXIS boyband group, stepped forward to identify himself as Patient 647. He said he was surprised to see the City Hall’s report because he had already given all the details of his whereabouts to health officials.

“I insist that I didn’t hide my information,” Krit said during an interview with GMM25’s Chae show on Wednesday night. “I also found it strange that the timeline did not match the information I gave them.”

Officials and police on Jan. 28, 2021, inspect a rooftop restaurant at Banyan Tree Bangkok Hotel where the Jan. 9 birthday party was held.

In the official version of his timeline, Krit is said to attend a party at Banyan Tree Hotel on Jan. 8, have lunch at the same hotel on Jan. 9, and refuse to give out information from Jan. 14 to 20.

However, Krit said he went to Techin’s condominium for a birthday surprise on Jan. 8 and did not attend Techin’s birthday party at Banyan Tree Hotel on Jan. 9.

As for the missing dates in the timeline published by the BMA, he said he was staying at his condominium the whole time.

Two other patients also reached out to reporters and said that their travel history published by the BMA is incorrect. The BMA then replaced the timeline of Patient 647, 657, 658 last night with a new report saying they were staying home. The update made by the BMA appears to reflect Krit’s accounts.

The City Hall said in a statement that all of the published travel history is based on the information gathered by health officials, though it could not verify whether the account given by the patients is true.

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“We added some details after we questioned the patients for a second time,” the statement wrote.

“The investigators do not know whether the information provided by the patients is genuine, but the patients can be prosecuted under the emergency decree or the Communicable Diseases Act should they refuse to give up information.”

The spokesman for the BMA Pongsakorn Kwanmuang could not be reached for comments as of publication time.