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Thai Police Chief and Deputy Suspended in Shocking Gambling Probe

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Thailand's Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, has suspended the country's national police chief and one of his deputies following accusations of the deputy's involvement in an illegal online gambling ring.

Torsak Sukvimol, who assumed the top police post in October of last year, and Surachate Hakparn, one of his deputy chiefs, were temporarily reassigned to inactive roles within the Office of the Prime Minister, which directly oversees the police department.

Surachate has faced allegations of participating in illegal online gambling platforms. Last September, his home in Bangkok was raided as part of a police bust of a major illegal online gambling network. On the day of the raid, eight of Surachate's subordinates were arrested in connection with the case.

Last month, Jaroonkiat Pankaew, the Central Investigation Bureau deputy chief, stated that Surachate was accused of abusing power and accepting bribes after financial transactions linked him to bank accounts associated with the online gaming platforms.

He also confirmed that investigators intend to pursue a money laundering charge against the embattled deputy police chief.

However, Surachate has denied the charge through his lawyers, stating that the accusations were fabricated to tarnish his reputation. He has also accused other high-ranking police officials of accepting bribes from the gambling operators.

On Wednesday, the prime minister announced that the transfer order would take immediate effect, and he is establishing a special committee to probe the situation. He also said he would consider lifting the suspension orders after 60 days. Srettha clarified that the orders were not issued as punishment but to ensure an unbiased investigation without interference.

Internal Conflict within Police Department?

In some circles, it is strongly believed that Surachate's case and ensuing developments indicate a possible power struggle within the police department.

The raid on Surachate's home took place around the time when a new police chief was set to be named, and Surachate was viewed as one of the leading candidates. Shortly after the raid, Torsak was appointed to the position.

Thailand's national police force is known for intense internal political maneuvering and has a longstanding reputation for corruption across its ranks.

Hours before news of the transfers surfaced, Torsak and Surachate were summoned to the Prime Minister's Office. After the meeting, they held a news conference, denying any personal rift between them.

Thailand Eyes Land-Based Gambling

Thailand's Gambling Act of 1935 prohibits almost all forms of gambling, including casinos, betting on sports, and online gaming. The only exceptions are the national lottery and betting on horse races at a government-approved racetrack.

However, the Thai government has started considering the possibility and economic impacts of legalizing land-based casinos. In June 2023, it was reported that Thailand was moving forward with plans to build land-based casino resorts as it faces competition from other countries in the region such as Japan, South Korea, and Macau.

Last month, a second study regarding the potential legalization of casino resorts in Thailand was announced to be finalized and ready for review in the country's House of Representatives.

These moves indicate that the government focuses on establishing a regulated land-based casino industry, leaving the status of online gambling largely unaddressed.

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