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The week that was in Thailand news: Big Joke: From hero to zero and back again?

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The week that was in Thailand news: Big Joke: From hero to zero and back again?

Living in Thailand many of us who avidly follow the Thai news have grown accustomed to the words “cop” and “corruption” appearing in the same sentence. Over the years the constabulary’s fiery detractors might have added another “C” word of limited duration. Now thanks to one of the leading characters over the last two years in the Soap Opera that is Thailand we have one that is even longer and infinitely more endearing than corruption.

“Charismatic”.

As unlikely as it would seem, charisma – a favorite of this columnist and translator – has been inextricably linked with a policeman who deserves the accolade. Now familiar to not only millions of Thais but tens of thousands of foreigners the person to whom I refer is none other than former immigration chief Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn. Big Joke himself.

If you have had enough of him this week, I’m sorry. But I hope what I am about to say might inform and amuse so get a coffee, relax and enjoy!

The larger than life character with the catchy nickname nearly didn’t have any life this week after two guys dressed like they were going to a social function took eight potshots at his Lexus while he was inside a massage establishment perhaps getting something resembling his initials. No, not an S.H.

He emerged to find his car peppered as if a passing dwarf had taken umbrage at being sideswiped. No one could seriously suggest – even the man himself – that this was a real assassination attempt but by the same token who could deny that dark forces were not threatening his very existence.

For the uninitiated – and few of those are left on Thaivisa these days after Rooster promoted the activities of the Lt-Gen at every crime busting turn – here is a resume. Big Joke, a handsome if not strapping fellow from the south from a well to do family, came to prominence in 2018 through a series of high profile busts while deputy commander of the tourist police. He surrounded himself with vinyl and loyal and good looking subalterns – one attractive “translator” became like a Plod Pin-Up in her own right.

His cases were anything but tourist issues but then the tourist police remit is far more far reaching than foreigners imagine. In particular, boiler rooms at home and abroad were shut down in a remarkable, unrelenting crusade. BJ always seemed to be on the scene and was filmed going into action throughout the kingdom and in faraway places like Dubai and Manila. His stock rose fast even among foreigners who began to think that here was an honest cop doing good. Some put aside their misgivings about him arresting every foreigner who so much as stepped out of line by sneezing.

That stock began to tumble in the latter part of the year after he was named as Immigration Bureau chief, a job he managed to do while still with the tourist police. One job was not enough for this superhero! He started well enough by suggesting that the multi billion baht biometrics plan might be a bit iffy though this was put on the back burner as signs went up at immigration counters that no tips were to be given to the officers behind the glass.

So far so good but the expected improvements that foreigners thought would come to immigration were not commensurate with having such a high profile and well known man at the helm. Suggestions were soon made that those higher up the trough of command were pulling his strings and soon enough like a puppet without a puppeteer he would end up center stage but in a crumpled heap.

The fiasco of dismissing a British woman’s rape claim on Koh Tao without a thorough investigation damaged him further but still Surachate soldiered on manfully into 2019. Just when he appeared to be weathering his storms came the crash – in April 2019 he was unceremoniously removed from office and told to file paper with the PM. Overnight he went from hero to zero. Only speculation about that which cannot be speculated on loomed larger in Thailand than what had happened to the Lt-Gen. But no word came as rumors flew like traffic tickets at a road stop when the station chief is actually looking.

For the rest of last year he kept a low profile until those bullets flew on Monday. The week since then was like travelling back in time to the heyday of His Jokiness – it was BJ here BJ there BJ everywhere. It was as salacious and saucy as short-time in a curtain hotel. Was BJ about to be a hero again?

In no time at all the connection of Surachate to that biometrics issue was raised on Twitter. Then it became media mainstream as a lawyer put two and two together and urged not just the Lt-Gen but those higher up the chain of command to give evidence about the procurement of immigration’s controversial 2 billion baht scheme.

And here was I thinking that all white elephants had to be owned by the King!

By later in the week it emerged that Surachate and RTP chief Gen Chakthip Chaijinda were less at loggerheads and more like mortal enemies. An audio tape was leaked that revealed CC speaking from abroad with Gen Wirachai clearly telling his deputy not to take his orders from BJ and not to let down the RTP side.

Surachate’s BFF DPM Prawit weighed in to try and calm the situation. But like an obese person stepping on your toe as he moves to apologize, that predictably failed miserably. Prawit admitted that there was bad blood between the chief and the man who might have been chief.

It would be very surprising if the shooting in Surawong does not go right to the heart of corruption in the RTP. Call me skeptical, but it would also be just as surprising if anything comes out. Don’t be surprised if two men with black helmets by their sides are found in some ditch somewhere while shady characters elsewhere toast a threat well executed.

This might be followed by a surprising lack of worthwhile evidence when the National Anti Corruption Commission comes to examine biometrics or why “smart cars” had to be top of the range BMW’s and why they ended up ferrying around the top brass in motorcades rather than catching the real crims.

Certainly the perpetual biometric hype by the Immigration Bureau’s press lackeys Naew Na is now coming into ever sharper focus. What do you do when something is rotten? – praise it to the skies, of course. As soon as Big Joke opened his bouch-o-metric there was successor Big Oud gurgling affectionately about his Billion Baht Baby. And how it had resulted in yet another seven – YES! SEVEN!! – arrests in the final days of the Year of the Pig!

Who cares if the figures didn’t seem to add up or if the quarter of a billion baht in fines would have come in anyway. This was a circling of the wagons that would have made General Custer proud let alone a modest lieutenant general who was a former border guard.

We may not be completely the wiser as to who or what led to Surachate’s fall from grace but by their very actions of denial and use of smoke and mirrors those key players have revealed themselves as surely as if they had taken the mike at a karaoke and been exposed as the worst singers in the village.

In comparison the rest of the news on Thaivia paled into insignificance though that is not to say there were not some tremendous stories with laughs a plenty. The so called “drought crisis” loomed large with the Yom and Maekhong rivers drying up and Bangkok tap water tasting salty. It was so bad that PM Prayut advised the Thais to stop taking so long to brush their teeth and shower less.

Rest assured Uncle that in regards to the latter I am doing my bit for Thailand despite Mrs Rooster’s nose-pinching protestations. I know it sounds big of me but showering infrequently comes naturally for us British born used to Sunday being bath night.

Down in QUOTES some charming Rottweilers savaged a maid at a real estate agent. Yes, the American Kennel Club calls them a lovely breed and half the TV Forum blames the owners for not training them properly. If I hear another “but they are loyal and lovable” comment from do-gooder canine lovers as innocent victims are carted off to hospital I am going to blow a fuse. Then in Sattahip a pack of soi dogs chasing a cat trashed a woman’s car.

Will the authorities please stop the dangerous breeds and clear our streets and estates of the menace of feral dogs. And will the government act to repeal laws that protect the slathering and rabid beasts at the expense of people. You might detect that Rooster is not a dog lover.

Tourism was never far from the top of the news. TAT officials were in New Delhi wooing Mrs and Mrs Kumar and announcing figures that were either misreported or made up on the spot. The translator came in for a bit of criticism for referring to those from the Indian sub-continent as “Billion Baht Indians” – this was meant to mean what they spent collectively not individually though the TAT may beg to differ.

Thai media reported from Phuket what we have all known for years. That 50% of tourist revenue is siphoned back to China (after a little cut is extracted) because tour groups are taken to Chinese owned establishments where they are routinely ripped off by their own people for goods and services. Even the guides are Chinese, a situation that has prompted the local Thai guides’ association to appeal to Uncle Too. Methinks “lung” may prove to be a tad deaf to that request given that his cronies would prefer that the matter is brushed under that thickest of shag pile – the Thai carpet.

Then bank analysts predicted that Chinese visitors to Thailand would just rise and rise until today’s 11 million became 23 million by the end of the decade. The numbers game will soon mean Mr and Mrs Woo rivaling Russians in sex on the beach antics down on the eastern seaboard. With the Indians – if the racist curmudgeons online are to be believed – enjoying the free show.

MR Chatumongkol Sonakul – otherwise referred to as Mom Tao not mister – said that 2020 would be a year of going after foreigners without work permits. All the digital nomads can sleep easy as the current Labor Minister knows all about putting his foot in it. He was Governor of the Bank of Thailand who presided over one of the biggest financial meltdowns in living memory that had root causes in the Kingdom. Even bumbling Prayut thought better than to put him in charge of finance.

Thai crime – never exactly what you might take home to mother – was particularly grisly this week. In Udon Thani a security guard decided to bludgeon his wife and grown daughters to death before hanging himself from the mango tree. In Bangkok an extraordinary case came to light about the son of a former owner of a Bang Khae market. Just a few years after serving time for imprisoning and torturing a young woman, a 40 year old man was at it again. He locked another woman in a metal box then next morning when she had suffocated got a druggie friend to help him bury her in the garden.

It was a case of like father like son. The murderer is a filthy sadist just like his market owning “phor” who cut up a little girl, an employee’s daughter, just because she tapped on the glass of his prized aquarium. He was fortunately shot after release so it is to be hoped that a similar fate awaits his son if the death sentence is once again rejected in favor of clemency.

In Lopburi horrendous violence that even shocked Rooster took place at a gold shop. A two year old was slain along with several innocent others. The piece of scum packing what appeared to be an automatic weapon and silencer asked no questions. The court should ask none either and just lock him away in some dungeon until he rots.

Down in Phuket a Thai mother claimed that her lady boy son was pushed and did not jump as a Turkish tourist claimed. We’ll see what plod comes up with on that one. For Rooster the story presented me with a dilemma after being criticized the previous week for using the pronoun “he” and referring to a Pattaya lady boy as a “gentleman”. This week this hapless translator was lambasted for referring to the man as her son and “she” in the next sentence. Maybe I should just use the Word of the Year “they” and be done with it.

Watch out next week as there is bound to be a lady boy in the news!

Fallout from the plastic bag ban continued to fill the news pages. Here at Rooster Central we pooled our cloth bags and started to remember to take them shopping. But out on the mean streets the Thais behaved in less expected ways. One guy got his five minutes of fame – and possibly a 5,000 baht fine – for driving his motorcycle into Tesco to avoid paying a few baht for a bag. While a consumer rights activist said that now the big stores don’t have to supply plastic bags they should lower their prices.

Good luck with that. It was a week in which corporate giants CP All and Central Group circled like vultures as Tesco Lotus plans to sell off its multi-billion baht assets in Thailand. Despite ineffectual waffling from the toothless Office of Trade Competition Commission this can only mean more monopoly and more bad news for the consumer. Readers will appreciate that CP already runs 7-Eleven and Central own Big C. Whoever wins the contract will have no need to wage price wars benefiting us.

Worldwide the American decision to assassinate a hero of the Iranian people plunged the world into crisis. I won’t condemn Trump for this because I am all for seeing terrorists off the premises. But his speedy back down from belligerent rhetoric smacked of someone who had made his point to the US electorate.

The crash or the Ukrainian Boeing within hours of retaliatory missile strikes on Iraqi bases were seen by TV bar stool experts as clear signs of missiles rather than engine failure. While that may be true – and some world leaders believe it – it is also as well to remember the crash of Flight 587 in Queens just a couple of months after 9/11 and the fact that coincidences do occur. People screamed terrorism on that occasion until it was proven that someone in the cockpit pressed down too hard on the rudder.

Finally Saturday was Children’s Day in Thailand and Uncle Too opened up his Government House to the nippers and delighted the crowds by installing a host of life-size dinosaurs.

Surprisingly they were not 5 foot 2 in suits.

Rooster

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Nina has worked for Inspire and Choice Group Asia since 2011 and loves to party when she can!

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