Sites searched for fugitive politician

Sites searched for fugitive politician

His 20-year affair is due to expire today

The hunt for the missing chairman of the Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO) of Prachin Buri, accused of forest encroachment, intensified yesterday with police scouring several locations in the province.

Soonthorn Vilawan, who is also the father of Deputy Education Minister Kanokwan Vilawan, is on the run after being accused of forest encroachment.

The pair are two of 10 suspects charged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) with illegally occupying 150 rai of land in Khao Yai National Park in Prachin Buri.

All of the suspects were due to appear in court on Thursday, but four of them, including Mr Soonthorn, failed to comply, leading the court to issue warrants for their arrest.

The other three are former Lands Department officials Surang Kantarom, Somsak Heeb-ngern and former Royal Forests Department official Kanit Petchpradab.

According to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), Mr. Soonthorn, who faces multiple charges including “supporting officials to dishonestly handle a land occupation that caused damage to government agencies”, is still on the run.

CIB Commissioner Lt. Gen. Pol Jirabhop Bhuridej said law enforcement officers investigated five locations in Prachin Buri, including Ms. Kanokwan’s house, Mr. Soonthorn’s office, a hotel and the home of a local politician.

A source said Mr Soonthorn was last seen with PAO Vice President Chanchai Jindasathaporn as he attended a ceremony at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel in Bangkok on Thursday, the day the former was due to present to prosecutors in court.

Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, secretary general of the NACC, said Mr Soonthorn’s case was due to expire today due to the expiration of the 20-year statute of limitations. The crime was first committed in 2002, he said.

The NACC obtained the file from the police in 2020, Mr Niwatchai said, adding that the NACC was working with the police to find Mr Soonthorn.

When the case expires, the anti-corruption agency will consider firing Mr Soonthorn from his current job.