Chief Royal Thai Police Torsak Sukvimol, left, Duputy Chief the...

Chief Royal Thai Police Torsak Sukvimol, left, Duputy Chief the royal Thai Police Surachate Hakparn, embrace after a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Thailand's national police chief and a deputy were ordered to be suspended by the Prime Minister on Wednesday, following a feud that escalated over the past few weeks pointing to serious conflicts within the highest echelons of the police department. Credit: AP/Pirun Nanta

BANGKOK — Thailand’s national police chief and one of his deputies were temporarily suspended under the order of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Wednesday, as accusations that the deputy was involved in an illegal online gambling ring sparked concerns about a possible power struggle in the police department.

Torsak Sukvimol, who was appointed to the top police post in October last year, and Surachate Hakparn, one of his deputy chiefs, were temporarily moved to inactive posts in the Office of the Prime Minister, which directly supervises the police department.

Surachate has been accused of involvement with illegal online gambling websites, a charge he denies.

Surachate’s home in Bangkok was raided in September last year in an operation police said was related to the bust of a major illegal online gambling network. Eight of Surachate’s subordinates were arrested on the day of the raid over the case.

The raid occurred as a new national police chief was set to be named, and Surachate was considered one of the frontrunners. Torsak was appointed to the post days after the raid.

Thailand’s national police agency has a tradition of fierce internal politicking, as well as a longstanding reputation for corruption at all levels.

The prime minister on Wednesday said the transfer order is effective immediately and that he is forming a special committee to investigate the situation, adding he would consider lifting the suspension orders after 60 days. Srettha said the orders were not meant as punishment but to ensure that an investigation could occur without interference.

Torsak and Surachate were called into the Prime Minister’s Office hours before reports of the transfers came out and later held a news conference together, denying any personal rift between them.

Jaroonkiat Pankaew, the deputy chief of the Central Investigation Bureau, said last month that Surachate was accused of abuse of power and bribery, after money trails linked him to bank accounts used by the online gambling websites. He also said investigators would pursue a money laundering charge against Surachate, who has yet to be arrested or formally charged.

Through his lawyers, Surachate has denied any wrongdoing, claiming the accusations were made to discredit him and accusing other top-ranking police officers of taking money from the gambling operators.

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