Police are seeking court warrants for the arrest of seven more suspects, including the governor of Mae Hong Son, this month for their alleged involvement in trading underage girls for sex in the northern province.
The suspects range from state officials to teachers and even a tofu seller, deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said Tuesday.
Mae Hong Son governor Suebsak Iamwicharn has been implicated as one of the officials involved in the scandal. He is believed to have links with human trafficking operations, an issue that has long shone a negative light on Thailand.
The prostitution ring was exposed after complaints were made by Mae Sariang assistant district chief, Boonyarit Nipawanit, who accused Mr Suebsak of ignoring his duty in preventing girls from being trafficked into prostitution.
The Interior Ministry has not pointed the finger at any particular officials under its supervision, pending its ongoing probe. Meanwhile victims who were earlier questioned by police showed no suspicious behaviour when they underwent a lie detector test.
Police investigators are handling the case carefully to ensure fairness for both sides, Pol Gen Srivara said.
He could not say when exactly investigators will arrest, or summon, the seven suspects, but action “must be taken this month,” the deputy national police chief insisted.
The scandal is causing ripple effects across the state and public sectors. While police have been alerted to crackdowns on human trafficking, civic groups have questioned the way the cases have been handled.
Mr Boonyarit, who is also chairman of the Federation of Assistant District Chiefs of Thailand, has been at the centre of much of the criticism, accused of withholding crucial information.
It was reported that Mr Boonyarit has been transferred to work with the provincial administration unit and the branch office of the Internal Security Operations Command in Mae Hong Son’s Muang district for his own safety, after locals became incensed by his handling of the case.
It was recently reported that Mr Boonyarit said some evidence “got lost” en route to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and other state agencies, according to his examination of the case.
The evidence, which includes accounts of underage victims being lured into the sex trade in the province, implicates both state officials and police officers, Mr Boonyarit added.
Informed of the transfer order, Mr Boonyarit reacted coolly Tuesday, saying that is “good” because he will not have to travel far to discuss the scandal with the provincial office of the NACC in Muang district.
He said he wants the NACC to look into the case and consider taking legal action against Mr Suebsak for his inability to monitor and prevent the sex trade in the province.
Earlier he mentioned the “unofficial tradition” of offering sexual services to please senior officials newly assigned to work in an area.
The girls were wheeled out at parties as offerings to such officials and referred to as “dessert”.
-The Bangkok Post