A land where the law is too easily bought

A photo showing fugitive former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra chilling out in Beijing? The alleged poaching of a rare black panther in a wildlife sanctuary by Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) president Premchai Karnasuta? The absurdity of a deputy premier insisting on his virtuousness in order to carry on in his job even though he was caught "borrowing" almost 30 million baht worth of luxury watches from his businessman friends without informing the relevant authority?

These inglorious accounts are the stories of us, at least during the past few weeks. They may vary in terms of subject matter and detail, but in their very heart they are one and the same. They are all about the justice system, and how fickle it seems to be at times.

For most people, the rules are the rules. For certain groups of people, however, exceptions can be the rule.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may have the privilege of being able to dismiss questions from reporters about what his government will do after photos of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, both wanted on different charges in Thailand, were circulated online.

Apparently irritated, the PM said he is not interested in this "nonsense".

Let's set aside the political dimensions of the charges brought against the two former PMs. Let's also forget whether they are legally valid or justified. If we simply look at how the cases transpired, how Thaksin and Yingluck could run away and live in exile while the Thai government can do nothing but fume each time they are sighted, can we still tell ourselves that we live in a country where law and law enforcement is taken seriously?

We can look back at similar impunity too. The hit-and-run Red Bull scion. The former deputy interior minister Vatana Asavahame sentenced to jail for corruption in the Klong Dan project. The powerful former abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Phra Dhammajayo.

Even the so-called jet-setting former monk Luang Pu Nen Kham, or Wirapol Sukphol, managed to run away from charges, including drugs and rape, to the United States for four years before he was sent back to face trial last year.

PM Gen Prayut may shrug at yet another photographic reminder of the fugitive former premiers. He could even attribute the emergence of the photos as another attempt to stir up political trouble at home following pro-election protests. But he can't deny the fact that the continued presence of fugitives of any kind is a black mark against the justice and law enforcement systems.

Why should everyone respect it when some people can run away from it?

It's true that fugitives from the justice system may be considered a non-issue in the Thai context as many people would agree it's part of our reality. It happens, and it does not even cause a surprise anymore. People seem to have accepted that with enough money or power, very few doors remain closed.

Should we stop paying attention as we carry on with our lives under the same laws?

The reality is we don't have any choice. But that does not mean it does not hurt deep inside.

The alleged poaching of wild animals inside one of the country's best-known wildlife sanctuaries by the ITD billionaire has provoked massive wrath among the public partly because it seems to run on the same hurtful theme of how the rich and powerful can remain above the law.

Mr Premchai, 63, and members of his party face nine charges, including illegal poaching, after they were found in possession of the carcasses of wild animals last week. All denied the allegations.

The plethora of opinions, satire and cosplay that followed the high-profile arrests is evidence of how upset people were by the alleged murders of wild, protected animals. Probably more telling, however, is a Nida poll which found almost 70% of its 1,250 respondents do not believe the authorities will enforce the law on these poachers fairly.

There is even a dark-humoured joke that the ITD boss could claim the panther, whose stretched-out skin has become an iconic image in the case, had sloughed off its own skin. Such sarcasm can be easily traced back to the earlier luxury watches scandal in which Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon seemed to try to get away with it all by claiming he had borrowed all the watches and thus bore no responsibility to report them.

One thing leads to another, but PM Gen Prayut apparently wants people to gloss over the Thaksin-Yingluck photo and the bling-bling watches but not the panther. Is that fair?


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