Why not throw the 112 professional hitmen in prison?

Friends on high keep hitmen out of police range – Bangkok Post, May 22, 2011
…Under the protection of the camps it is virtually impossible for local police to obtain evidence, and often their inquries or attempts at making arrests are hindered by the influential figures…

The full text:
Friends on high keep hitmen out of police range
The release of a list of 112 wanted assassins underscores the dilemma facing authorities who know their enemy, and are also aware of the powers that protect them

By the police’s own admission Thailand has over 110 hitmen, so why _ a reasonable person might ask _ are they not behind bars if law enforcement agencies know who they are?

A week ago, the Royal Thai Police released a list of 112 hitmen and offered a cash reward of 100,000 baht to anyone who might provide information leading to an arrest. A “Most Wanted” poster was also paraded for the press featuring 50 faces of known gunmen.

The call for public help in tracking the guns-for-hire ahead of the July 3 national election was sparked by the shooting of former Pheu Thai MP for Samut Prakan, Pracha Prasopdee, who the previous Tuesday suffered bullet wounds to the back and head.

Mr Pracha later said he was convinced the attempted assassination was politically motivated, although police have yet to confirm the theory.

“I know who ordered the contract on me. A son of a politician has passed on a message via a senior official that when I am no longer an MP, he will shoot me. Barely two days after the House dissolution, I was shot,” Mr Pracha said.

HAIL OF BULLETS: A policeman examines the car of former Pheu Thai MP for Samut Prakan Pracha Prasopdee, below, who was injured when a gunman opened fire on his car in Phra Pradaeng district

Pol Lt Col Panmanee Nontakote, who has researched hitmen in Thailand, agrees that it’s probably the work of professional gunmen. “Considering what happened to Mr Pracha, we can see that it’s almost the same as the killing patterns in the past,” said the officer, who has studied hitmen in Thailand, including their motivation, psychology, occupations and associations with influential business and political figures.

Pol Lt Col Panmanee is deputy commander of the Research and Assessment Unit at the Royal Thai Police Office. The research project was launched following Thaksin Shinawatra’s 2004 war on drugs and the former prime minister’s probing of “influential figures”.

The researchers, who interviewed 15 convicted hitmen, wanted to learn more about the underworld of professional killers so that police investigators could better plan how to detect and arrest them.

According to the research, political disputes at both the local and national levels was the main motive for the professional killings. The other was conflicts over business investments involving influential figures.

Psychologically, the hitmen were found to have big egos coupled with a sense of loyalty to family, friends and employers which attracted them to settle disputes by force.

One of the professional killers said he started his career as an act of revenge for a friend.

But some of the researchers weren’t convinced by the claims of the “brave, loyal, friend” argument, saying many of the victims were shot from behind and the killers simply had an urge to kill.

Although some of the hitmen came from poor backgrounds, others did not. Some were even from wealthy families, such as owners of big orchard farms.

Some of the killers were found to be police or military officers.

As to the question of why the hitmen weren’t arrested, the researchers found that they were often kept protected in so-called “gunmen camps” usually run by influential business or political figures.

In the camps, their weak position is underlined, as they need the protection of their bosses, who provide them with a sanctuary in return for their killing skills.

The researchers found that such a dependency formulates a patronage relationship under which a hitman will always be beholden to their boss’s demands, making it virtually impossible for them to leave the business.

Hiring hitmen is usually done under a loose contact. Paymasters contact the hitmen’s bosses or brokers, who then arrange the killer. Virtually none of them know who originally ordered the contract.

No hitman works alone. They will have a few peers help them plan the killing and offer back-up, such as driving the vehicle and disposing of weapons.

Once the assignment is completed, the researchers found, the hitmen return to the camps.

Under the protection of the camps it is virtually impossible for local police to obtain evidence, and often their inquries or attempts at making arrests are hindered by the influential figures.

While the public might consider the hitmen poster released last weekend a joke, Pol Maj Gen Winai Thongsong, deputy commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, said it was an important tool in tracking the killers.

He said that more eyes trying to detect the killers’ movements helps police greatly in their attempts to locate them.

TRIGGER TERRORS: A list of hitmen issued by police as part of steps to tackle poll-related violence.

The poster, released regularly since 2005, has returned mixed results.

In 2005, photos of 50 hitmen were released and 24 of those arrested. In 2007, 40 were identified, resulting in seven arrests.

Police have also been trying to develop a database of gunmen camps nationwide in the hope that it will give them a clearer picture of the networks and parties involved.

So far, up to 100 gunmen camps, some belonging to local and national politicians, have been studied and recorded. Some are located in the southern provinces of Songkhla, Surat Thani, Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phetchaburi; central provinces such as Uthai Thani and Nakhon Sawan; and the eastern provinces of Chon Buri and Chanthaburi.

”With this database, we can keep an eye on them and let them know that we know them,” said Pol Maj Gen Winai. ”We just hope this will help reduce the opportunity for them to commit a crime.”

Pol Lt Col Panmanee said it would be difficult to bring the shady profession to an end, as there were too many powerful people involved.

As long as there are political and business conflicts, the gun-for-hire business will flourish and new faces will replace old ones.

Before becoming a hitman, Joke was a construction worker. He came from a poor family _ his mother had to take care of him, his brother and two sisters alone, and took any job she could find. Because the family was so poor, Joke’s education ended at Grade 4, when he left school to find work.

Joke took a variety of labouring jobs until he met a luk pi, or older “brother”, who took him under his wing. The luk pi worked at a modest restaurant where he helped supervise security. One day he asked Joke to kill one of his rivals. Joke felt he owed a debt of gratitude to his luk pi, so he agreed to do it. He was just 17.

Joke had learned how to use a gun at a military camp near his home. When he was young, he would often play with some of the men on the base, who sometimes allowed him to fire an M16.

After becoming a hitman, he continued to take orders from his luk pi, who also gave contracts to other hitmen. Joke would usually travel to and from a shooting on the back of a motorcycle driven by an accomplice. He used a 9mm pistol, and received 50,000 baht before a job, and more afterwards.

Once he finished a job, he fled upcountry, staying with relatives or taking labouring jobs until the heat died down. He would then return to his luk pi. Over the years, Joke hardly ever saw his family.

Once he fled to the Thai-Cambodia border, where he decided to steal vehicles and sell them in Cambodia to make a living. Joke was arrested at the age of 23 and put in jail for the murder of another rival of his luk pi. At the age of 34, when our researchers met him in jail, he said that “the more he killed the less guilt he felt”.

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