Army Whistleblower Says He’s Digging In for Long Legal Battle

A June 5, 2020, file photo of Narongchai Intharakawi.

BANGKOK — A former sergeant who accused army officers of embezzling funds said he expected nothing short of a long, bitter fight in the court as a consequence of his actions.

Ex-sergeant Narongchai Intharakawi said he stands accused of deserting his post and disobeying order under the military court. Narongchai was fired from the army last month in what is believed by some to be the latest case of the army punishing whistleblowers within its ranks.

“If I fight with facts and evidence I will win. However, if I am fighting power, influence, and the military court, I will lose,” Narongchai, a former ordnance corps clerk, said in an interview. “I still hope that there would be some justice left.”

Narongchai said he has been trying since September to alert the army of alleged fraud in allowance money through internal channels, but to no avail. On September 5, Narongchai decided to petition the Office of Ombudsman about the alleged fraud.

In March, the repercussions began. He received an order to be detained for “desertion.” The media also obtained a video showing a general reprimanding Narongchai for talking with civilian authorities about the alleged corruption.

“It was then when they began trying to punish me,” Narongchai said. “They eventually threatened me by saying one soldier who had been detained earlier had died. If I had reported myself they would surely attack me. Why would they say such a thing? What for?”

Army spokesman Col. Winthai Suvari said on the phone Friday that Narongchai’s complaint has been received by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The spokesman declined to comment on allegations of Narongchai’s desertion, or any threat against the former soldier.

“It’s now up to the court,” Col. Winthai said.

Narongchai has been out on bail since June 22. He was dismissed from the army in the same month, though he had filed an appeal against the expulsion. Col. Winthai said he is not aware of the appeal.

The ex-soldier, who hails from Singburi province, said he has not received salaries from the army since the end of February. Narongchai currently relies on donation money and a job that he cannot disclose, due to fears of his safety.

“I am thinking about making T-shirts for sale to raise more funds. I don’t know how long the battle will take,” Narongchai said. “If something happens to me, people will know who is behind. I did nothing wrong. If they don’t want me to be a soldier, then I might enter politics instead.”

The Thai armed forces often come under allegations of corruption and their habit of punishing those who speak out rather than the problems. In 2015, soldiers detained activists who campaigned about alleged frauds in a multi-billion historical park built by the army.

In February, a soldier reportedly went on a killing rampage after he was cheated of money by his commanding officer. The shooting spree left 29 people dead.

Narongchai said he still considers himself a soldier despite his dismissal, albeit for a different master.

“I am still a soldier but a soldier for the people,” Narongchai said. “I am not a soldier of the army chief, or the army.”

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