Thitisan Utthanaphon never tried to hide the fact he was rich. Speeding around Bangkok in exorbitantly expensive sports cars, “Joe Ferrari” wanted to be seen. Yet it took his (alleged) torture and killing of a drug suspect he (allegedly) was extorting for authorities to notice Thitisan’s “unusual wealth”.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission on Wednesday said it would investigate how a lowly civil servant managed to live in a five-rai mansion in Bangkok’s Kannayao District and own 29 luxury vehicles, including a limited-edition Lamborghini costing more than 18 million baht.
Joe Ferrari’s fast-lane life came to a screeching halt this week, however, after video emerged of him and a group of subordinates putting a plastic bag over the head of Chiraphong Thanaphiphat until he collapsed and died Aug. 6 at the Muang Nakhon Sawan police station.
Thitisan, the Muang police chief, allegedly was trying to convince the 24-year-old man arrested with 100,000 methamphetamine tablets to pay him 2 million baht to have the drug charge dropped. After Chiraphong died, the police chief is accused of then falsifying the victim’s death certificate to say he overdosed on illegal drugs.
With the entire world shining a blinding spotlight on the open secret that is the corrupt-to-the-core Royal Thai Police, authorities moved unusually quickly. A court issued arrest warrants for seven of 13 believed to be involved with five put in cuffs by close-of-business Wednesday. All seven also were fired by the Royal Thai Police.
Arrested were chief inspector Pol. Maj. Rawirot Ditthon, deputy chief inspector Pol. Capt. Songyot Khlainak, Pol. Sr. Sgt. Maj. Wisut Bunkhiew and Pol. Sr. Sgt. Maj. Suphakon Nimchuen of Muang Nakhon Sawan police station, and Pawikon Khammarew who of Takhli police station.
At large is Pol. Lt. Thoranin Matwanna, along with Thitisan. Joe Ferrari, though, reportedly has already taken the Cambodian offramp and is relaxing safely over the border. He undoubtedly hopes his fate matches that of fugitive Red Bull heir Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, who was never prosecuted after killing a policeman with his own Ferrari in 2012.
Deputy national police chief Pol. Gen. Suchart Teerasawat, who is leading the police investigation, led officers in swarming Thitisan’s 60-million-baht home where only two Burmese housekeepers were resident.
The sprawling complex in the Panya Intra housing estate includes a football field and a large swimming pool. In the car park were 29 pricey imports, including the Lamborghini Aventador LP 720-4 50th Anniversary Edition, of which only 100 were made.
Police, however, won’t be alone in investigating Thitisan. Spokesman Niwatchai Kasemmongkol said the NACC has the authority to conduct a concurrent enquiry. Evidence about the suspect’s unusual wealth has been compiled and was forwarded to the commission’s asset-inspection committee.
Thai Police: Corrupt to the Core
Since the notorious Blue Diamond Affair more than three decades ago to the Boss fiasco, the Royal Thai Police repeatedly has shown Thailand, and sometimes the world, that it is criminal organization unto itself. Day in and day out, the RTP is dogged by allegations of endemic graft among senior officers with some involved in extrajudicial killings and other illegal acts, all with impunity.
Thitisan isn’t even close to being the only senior officer living lavish lifestyles far beyond the means of their modest wages. And any whistleblower who tries to stop the money train can find themselves tied to the tracks.
A former senior investigator who had accused some of his colleagues of abusing their authority and engaging in extortion was shot dead this very week outside his house in Songkhla Province. The 48-year-old man was shot three times at point-blank range in broad daylight by an assailant who likely will never be found.
A main root of the system-wide corruption is the lack of sufficient welfare and security. Police are paid less than anyone in law enforcement, such as judges. Officers also must pay for their own guns and other equipment. The result in grunt-level police can’t live on what they make legally, so they earn more in other ways.
Poor Man, Rich Man
Thitisan didn’t join the police force a wealthy man, but his appetite for bright lights, fast cars and hot women got the best of him.
A police source said Thitisan built his own wealth in the gray areas of his jurisdiction, starting when he was a deputy sub-division chief in Narcotics Suppression Division 4 in the South.
He put himself in the front of high-profile cases, which got him deep into illicit businesses, such as edible bird nests, which he reportedly sold to pad his salary at first. Then he discovered cars.
Whenever a smuggled luxury car was seized, Thitsan took credit and cashed in the reward – intended for the public – offered by the Customs Department.
With each arrest, he’d take home 45 percent of the vehicle’s value, earning as much as 900,000 baht for one car. Then he’d use the reward money to buy the vehicle once Customs put it up for auction.
Rewards are a common way for cops to enrich themselves. Although they already are paid for doing their job – catching the bad guys – police grab the reward once an arrest is made.
Once made superintendent in Nakhon Sawan, Thitsan bought a house there and visited his Bangkok villa every weekend, his housekeepers said. Most times, he’d come alone. But others he’d bring his current girlfriend.
High-End Cars & Women
Joe Ferrari, however, liked his woman like he likes his cars. In 2014, he made a big, showy marriage proposal to actress Pichanak “May” Sakakorn after dating only a couple of months. She wisely turned him down. But May later regretted ever sleeping with Thitisan in the first place. In 2015, she filed a harassment complaint, accusing him of stalking and using fellow police to follow her around.
Joe Ferrari’s jet-setting days are now over – at least in Thailand. He and his alleged coconspirators face charges of malfeasance causing damage to another person, colluding with five people or more in the coercion of another person, and collusion in killing another person by torture.