Frequent public appearances are making Crime Suppression Division (CSD) chief Suthin Sappuang come out of his shell.
The senior policeman, who is normally quiet, appears to be learning the skill of opening up after he spoke to many people flocking to the CSD to lodge complaints over investment scams which have hit newspaper headlines in recent weeks.
Appointed to the top job six months ago, Pol Maj Gen Suthin’s work at the CSD initially seemed to consist of little more than solving run-of-the-mill crimes and wrapping up unfinished cases.
Pol Maj Gen Suthin Sappuang, chief of the Crime Suppression Division: ‘Seeking justice for victims of fraud and other crimes’ (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
There was a mundane air about the office, with officers carrying out routine jobs.
But after the Songkran festival, the CSD has been enlivened by recent cases of fraud that have seen a stream of cheated victims go in and out of the office to speak to Pol Maj Gen Suthin and find out the status of their cases.
The CSD’s responses to high-profile cases is putting Pol Maj Gen Suthin, along with his investigators, in the media spotlight.
“Cheating is not a serious crime like murder, but it grabs people’s attention because it involves a large number of victims,” Pol Maj Gen Suthin told the Bangkok Post.
Up to 470 “members” of WealthEver Co, which claimed to sell food supplements, were left stranded at Suvarnabhumi airport on April 11 when they found out a trip to Japan, as promised by the firm as a reward for their purchasing of its products, was non-existent.
After receiving the victims’ complaints, the CSD managed to swiftly arrest company executive Pasist Arinchayalapis, alias Sin Sae Shogun, together with her associates, in Ranong.
The case is believed to have caused damages of 15 million baht.
The CSD’s quick arrest has thrust Pol Maj Gen Suthin to the centre stage of the inquiry.
“The Shogun case has encourage other victims to complain to the CSD,” he said.
Four days after the arrest of Ms Pasist, another case of fraud emerged.
A public hospital doctor, Dr Nijcha Rutthapichairak, met Pol Maj Gen Suthin to lodge a complaint against a doctor at a state-run hospital, Phannarat Chantharamani, who was allegedly carrying out a tourism scam.
A total of 38 victims were deceived into investing 64 million baht in V Siam Agency, a tourism company, that failed to offer the dividends it had promised.
The Economic Crime Suppression Division was later asked to look into the case and has contacted the Philippine embassy to revoke the tourist visa of Lt Cdr Dr Phanarat, who is believed to be hiding there.
Complaints over cheating keep cropping up at the CSD. Pol Maj Gen Suthin and his team are also hunting Sawat Saengbangpla, 79, ex-chairman of Chulalongkorn University Savings Cooperative, for allegedly committing public fraud.
An initial investigation found 160 cooperative members were fooled into channelling their money into Mr Sawat’s investment scam, which claimed to be able to offer healthy profits from the reselling of lottery tickets, he said.
Up to 443 million baht was ploughed into the scam.
The CSD is not the sole agency dealing with cheating-related crimes, Pol Maj Gen Suthin said.
For cases that are too complex, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) steps in.
Though the CSD has its hands full with these and other fraud cases, that doesn’t mean the department will lose focus on its other cases, Pol Maj Gen Suthin said.
There are still many unfinished cases which his agency wants to wrap up, Pol Maj Gen Suthin said.
One such case is the rape and murder of a 25-year-old Japanese woman in Sukhothai in 2007 and a probe into a string of rapes and murders of many elderly women in Samut Songkhram and Nakhon Pathom, which dominated the headlines in 2015.
“These cases need to be reviewed to speed up the investigations,” he insisted.
To ensure the CSD works more efficiently, Pol Maj Gen Suthin is planning to bolster the agency’s manpower.
He plans to buy new weapons for CSD investigators and is in the process of asking the Royal Thai Police for an additional 150 CSD personnel.
Also, he added, the CSD is planning to find new headquarters for its commando unit.
After his graduation from the Royal Police Cadet Academy, Pol Maj Gen Suthin spent most of his career in the CSD’s commando unit.
He was eventually assigned to the lead CSD commandos, so he knows what is needed to improve the unit’s abilities.
The present compound of the commando unit, located in Soi Chokchai 4 in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao area, is ”too narrow and is not suitable for training officers”, Pol Maj Gen Suthin said.
He is discussing with his superiors plans to relocate, which hopefully will boost the unit’s efficiency.
But the CSD must go on developing itself as a police entity, to serve the greater public.
Previously it was perceived by many members of the public as the police agency of last resort.
But this image is now changing after the recent cheating cases came to light.
“We are going to be the first agency they come to,” Pol Maj Gen Suthin said.
“But if we undertake many cases and make little or no progress with them, people will again lose their trust.”