Thai police threaten defamation against official who fled

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BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police said Friday they're considering filing a defamation suit against an officer who led the country's anti-human trafficking operation but recently fled to Australia, saying he feared for his life after implicating influential figures in Thai society.

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said the accusations hurt the image of Thailand and the country's police force and suggested they stemmed from disgruntlement over not being promoted. He made the comments a day after interviews appeared in Australian media with the former officer, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, who said he was seeking political asylum.

In the interviews, Paween said his investigations had implicated "influential people" in the Thai government, military and police who wanted him dead.

"Human trafficking is a big network that involves lots of the military, politicians and police," Paween was quoted as saying by the Guardian Australian newspaper and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "There are some bad police and bad military who do these kind of things. Unfortunately those bad police and bad military are the ones that have power."

Paween's comments were the latest embarrassment for Thailand's military government, which has vowed a crackdown on human trafficking and corruption.

Paween headed a high-profile task force created earlier this year after the discovery of 36 bodies and shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand in May. The finding exposed a network of jungle camps run by human traffickers, who human rights groups have long said worked in complicity with corrupt Thai officials, a claim authorities in Bangkok had routinely denied.

The police chief said investigators were looking into who might have threatened Paween, and if the accusations were found to be untrue that "would be considered defamation."

"I don't know what he's trying to do to this country," Chakthip said, visibly defensive. "I don't know if he has a hidden agenda. Maybe he was hoping to get a promotion and he didn't. He should be telling the whole story, not just half of it."

Chakthip said that if Paween reveals names of those who threatened him, police will look into it. But asked if police planned to contact Paween, the police chief replied: "Why should I contact him? There's no reason to speak to him. He resigned."

Paween's task force arrested dozens of people and put out warrants for many more, including local politicians in southern Thailand, government officials, police and a senior army officer.

His investigation was disbanded in September after five months, although it was far from finished, he said. Soon after, Paween was abruptly transferred to an insurgency-plagued region of southern Thailand despite his protests that he would be targeted by traffickers and senior police involved in the trade. He quit his job and fled the country.

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