Former Thai police chief becomes Buddhist monk

Surachate moves to an unidentified temple after a shooting and a row over a biometric identification system
Former Thai police chief becomes Buddhist monk

Close shave: Surachate Hakparn has been ordained as a monk at an unidentified Buddhist temple. (Photo supplied)

A prominent former Thai police chief who dropped out of sight abruptly on Jan. 27 following a high-profile controversy reappeared a day later as a Buddhist monk. 

Former immigration police commander Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn appeared in several pictures of an ordination ceremony for Buddhist monks.

The photographs were released yesterday to the media by his aides, who said Lt. Gen. Surachate had ordained as a monk and would stay at an unidentified temple for a week.

The former immigration chief, who now serves as a special adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, dropped out of sight after the government warned him to abide by official rules of conduct after his public row with another prominent policeman.

On the night of Jan. 6, unknown assailants riding a motorcycle fired eight gunshots at a Lexus SUV owned by Surachate and parked on a street popular with foreign tourists in central Bangkok.

The former immigration chief escaped unharmed in the drive-by shooting as he was getting a massage nearby.

The shots were fired either in warning or in an apparent assassination attempt, police believe. No suspects have been identified. 

Surachate said the shooting was related to his call for an investigation into the purchase of a 2-billion-baht (US$65 million) biometric identification system for the Immigration Bureau.

He said he had opposed the purchase of the system, which is reported to be inefficient and was approved by Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda, chief of Thailand’s national police force.

Anti-graft campaigners say that expensive procurements of unnecessary and inefficient equipment often serve as a way for senior police and army officers to enrich themselves through kickbacks.

A lawyer and anti-graft activist, Sittra Biabangkerd, has called on the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the procurement of new biometric identification system.

In another twist, an audio recording was leaked recently to the media in which police chief Chakthip can be heard instructing his deputy not to draw attention to the drive-by shooting involving Surachate.

Surachate has not publicly named who he thinks was behind the attack, yet he has pressed for a more rigorous investigation.

In response to his public statements, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief, signed a letter on Jan. 24 warning Surachate not to “report false information to his supervisor” or “commit any act that bullies, threatens or intimidates the civil service.”

Until his dismissal from his post last April, Surachate was a prominent and high-profile immigration chief who was seen as a likely candidate to be appointed national police chief.

His abrupt dismissal came as a surprise to observers and to Surachate himself. His superiors have not fully explained why he was sidelined.

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