BANGKOK — Families of police cadets Nattawut Tirasuwansuk and Chayakorn Puttachaiyong watched in horror as the pair plunged to their deaths during a parachute training exercise that went horribly wrong two years ago.
An investigation later found that officials in charge had the parachute sling discreetly replaced with a cheap knockoff prior to the 2014 training exercise and pocketed the difference, yet the prosecutor still shows no sign of taking them to court, a delay described as “unfair” by the lawyer representing the families of the deceased cadets.
“The prosecutor’s still in the process of deciding whether to indict [the defendants],” lawyer Ananchai Chaiyadech said by telephone Friday. “There’s no limit to how long it’s going to take. And it’s been a long delay already. It’s been two years and three months, but the matter hasn’t reached the court yet.”
Somnuek Siangkong, spokesman of the Attorney-General, declined to comment and referred a reporter to the prosecutor in charge of the case, Kookiat Charoenboon. Kookiat is not available for comment on Friday; his aide said the prosecutor is attending a seminar outside Bangkok.
Eleven people were named as defendants by the prosecutor: seven are directors and staff of Thai Aviation Industries Ltd., the supplier that sold the faulty parachute sling to the police; three are officers in the Police Aviation Department; and one is an official of the state-owned Thai Airways who allegedly acted as a middleman between the two groups.
According to investigators, all 11 defendants were ordered to supply and fit a police training plane with a foreign-made 99,000 baht parachute cable. Instead, they allegedly installed a 9,300-baht sling made by a Thai company, which was not designed to fit the police aircraft, and embezzled the rest of the budget.
This resulted in a deadly accident on March 31, 2014, when eight police cadets jumped out of the plane during low-altitude parachuting training over Phetchaburi province, a session to which families of the cadets were invited to watch from the ground.
The faulty sling failed to snap open the cadets’ canopies, and while the six other trainees managed to open emergency parachutes and land unharmed, Nattawut, 19, and Chayakorn, 23 fell to their deaths.
In a petition filed to the Office of Attorney-General on behalf of his clients on Thursday, Ananchai urged prosecutors to speed up the investigation because the victims’ families cannot hope to get any financial compensation until both court cases are finalized.
Parents of the two cadets said they planned to sue the defendants for a total of 99 million baht for the alleged corruption that killed Nattawut and Chayakorn, but under the law a civil case can only go ahead after the Supreme Criminal Court reaches its verdict.
“Just think about it, how many more years will the families have to wait?” Ananchai said on Friday. “Okay, let’s say, seven years before the criminal case is over. Then it goes to the Civil Court. Probably seven more years before the case is over. So it will take us 14-15 years. It’s a really long time.”
The delay in the case is partly due to bureaucracy. Because the defendants include four civil servants – three police officers and one official from the state-owned Thai Airways – the National Anti-Corruption Commission must rule first whether there is sufficient evidence of any wrongdoing.
The commission concluded there are enough grounds to prosecute the defendants, and the case was sent to the Attorney-General for indictment. But the 11 suspects effectively shut down the investigation by filing a petition asking for “fairness” from the prosecutors, saying they had been falsely implicated.
“The prosecutor has to deliberate over whether any of them were indeed unfairly accused, and which of them were not,” Ananchai said.
He said he feared it would be months or even years before the prosecutor decided to take up the case in court.