Investigators Seeking Mask Hoarding Ring Whistleblower

Police presents evidence to Sornsuvee Puraweeratwatcharee during his arrest on March 9, 2020.
Police presents evidence to Sornsuvee Puraweeratwatcharee during his arrest on March 9, 2020.

BANGKOK — Netizens on Friday are showing their solidarity with an investigative Facebook page who is wanted by police for exposing an alleged mask hoarding scandal.

Pol. Maj. Gen. Panya Pinsuk, deputy chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, said investigators are seeking the owner of the Facebook page “Queen of Spades” after it posted photos showing what appeared to be a sale of up to 200 million face masks to buyers in China admit an acute shortage in the country. 

Police said the posts, which implicate businessman Sornsuvee Puraweeratwatcharee in the alleged deal, are false. 

“We have relatively clear evidence that the page posted false information,” Panya said during a news conference yesterday. “The page reposted information from Sornsuvee, which such information is already known to be false. Therefore, the page is punishable under the Computer Crime Act.”

The news was met with outcry from netizens who criticize the police for prioritizing a hunt for the whistleblower rather than the accused wrongdoers, with the hashtag #SaveQueenofSpades soaring to top trending on Thai Twitter last night. 

“What! If the one who tells the truth is called a culprit, then where can I find justice in this country?” user @9Rutchy tweeted.

The scandal surfaced on social media after the page posted a series of photos taken from Sornsuvee’s Facebook account showing him stockpiling a huge stock of masks, and selling them at the price of 14 baht per piece, well above the government’s selling prices of 2.5 baht per piece.

Sornsuvee later said that he didn’t actually possess 200 million masks and claimed that he was boasting to attract investors. He was arrested on March 9 for importing false information into the computer system, but released on bail a day later.

Metropolitan police’s chief investigator Santi Chainiramai said Sornsuvee is only a middleman in the mask hoarding ring which is linked to Paradonraphab Party’s chief strategist Phanyot Akkhara-amornpan.

According to the investigation, Phanyot set up a company called Thai Health International to illegally sought the masks from Sornsuvee before repacking and selling them at higher prices.

Police said Phanyot was able to buy 513,300 and sell 614,800 pieces of mask, yielding more than 14 million baht in cash. Police did not elaborate on where the surplus came from.

Phanyot was arrested on Wednesday for profiteering and failing to notify authorities of their possession of controlled products. He was released on bail on the same day of his arrest.

Face masks were put on the government’s price control list since February, which gives the Ministry of Commerce complete oversight of its production, sale, and distribution. Violators face up to seven years in prison and a maximum of 140,000 baht fine.

Pol. Maj. Gen. Panya said Phanyot’s capture stemmed from Anonvat Vorametchayangkoon, a former candidate for the Paradonraphab Party, who was arrested earlier on March 30 in connection with the sale of 100 boxes of masks. Police later found that Anonvat purchased the masks from Phanyot, leading to his arrest.

Metro police’s chief investigator Santi said investigators are probing for more suspects who might be involved in the ring.

The case gained widespread attention especially after it was linked to an aide to minister Thammanat Prompao named Pitinan Rak-iad, who is seen in a video discussing the sale of masks with Sornsuvee.

However, Pitinan later distanced himself from the allegations, saying that it was merely a negotiation which has nothing to do with the controversial stockpile.

Related stories:

Lawyer Implicates More Politicians in Mask Hoarding Ring

Minister’s Aide Accused of Hoarding, Selling Millions of Masks to China