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Death penalty for former deputy minister

The Appeals Court on Friday sentenced a former deputy minister of commerce to death, instead of life imprisonment as earlier imposed, for the murder of a judge’s brother.

The death penalty went to Banyin Tangpakorn, 58, who was earlier found guilty of murdering Veerachai Sakuntaprasert, the elder brother of judge Panida Sakuntaprasert who handled his share theft case, on Feb 4, 2020.

The court of first instance in December 2020 handed down life imprisonment to Banyin for his confession in the theft of millions of baht in shares. The murder followed the abduction of Veerachai, which was intended to influence the judge to take side with Banyin.

The latest ruling by the Appeals Court responded to Judge Panida’s petition that Banyin and other convicts in the same case confessed because they had no other choices due to strong evidence against them.

Another convict Narongsak Pomchan, 48, also faced a death sentence, instead of life imprisonment. The prison terms of four other convicts were increased to life imprisonment.

– Background –

On June 26, 2015, Banyin drove a car and hit a roadside tree in Suan Luang district, Bangkok. Chuwong Saetang, a billionaire contractor who sat in the front seat with him, was killed.

Police later suspected the crash might not have been an accident. They found the vehicle was travelling at 30 kilometres per hour when the crash occurred. An autopsy showed Chuwong sustained injuries inconsistent with the crash such as broken ribs and ligature marks on the neck.

The distance between a golf course where they visited and Chuwong’s house was 20km. However, the period from their departure from the golf course to when the crash took place was two hours. Chuwong’s family suspected he might have been killed somewhere else, and the collision might have been staged.

A look into Chuwong’s financial affairs raised more suspicions. Ten days before the crash, he transferred shares worth 38 million baht to a marketing officer at a stock brokerage closed to Banyin. Another 228 million baht worth of shares were transferred to a caddie at a golf course. Evidence suggested at the time the shares might have been transferred using forged documents orchestrated by Banyin.

Public prosecutors and Chuwong’s family later charged Banyin in two cases — forging documents and murder.

The South Bangkok Criminal Court, under judge Panida, handled the share transfer case.

Ms Panida said she had been threatened several times to dismiss the case. Fearing for her safety, she asked her brother Veerachai to pick her up every day after work.

In early February 2020, three to four men kidnapped Veerachai from in front of the court and pressured Ms Panida to dismiss the case. Veerachai’s bruised body was later found in a river in Nakhon Sawan.

A suspect was caught, who claimed Banyin was behind the plot. Banyin was arrested later.

The Criminal Court sentenced Banyin to eight years for document forgery in the share-transfer case.

Banyin was a former two-time Pheu Thai MP for Nakhon Sawan and a list MP for Matchima Party earlier. In 2000, he served as a deputy mnister of commerce in the Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat administrations.

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