Thailand on Friday said it would indict 72 people including a senior army officer over human trafficking after the grim trade in migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh rocked the Southeast Asian region.
The move comes after a major people-smuggling trade unravelled in May when thousands of migrants were abandoned at sea and in jungle camps by traffickers following a Thai crackdown, a crisis that eventually forced a Southeast Asia-wide response.
The Office of the Attorney General of Thailand on Thursday issued an order to indict 72 people charged on 16 counts mostly over human trafficking, OAG spokesman Wanchai Roujanavong said at a press conference in Bangkok.
“We will not let influential people rise above justice,” Wanchai told reporters, adding more than dozen state officials at all levels will face trial.
The charges include human trafficking, involvement in international crimes, taking and bringing illegal migrants and malfeasance.
“AOG has given priority to the issue — as it is a big group of people involving international systems — it caused a lot of damage to the country as there were dead bodies found,” Wanchai said, referencing the grisly discovery of dozens of migrant graves along the border with Malaysia that sparked the trafficking crackdown.
A court in southern Songkhla province where the graves were found will formally process the indictments later Friday.
Among the suspects is Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, charged with being a major smuggling kingpin in the lucrative trade.
His alleged involvement in the grim trade in humans raises awkward questions for junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has repeatedly justified his coup last year as a much-needed antidote to graft that he says had flourished under a series of elected civilian governments.
Manas was promoted while Prayut was army chief.
He remains the only military officer charged with complicity in people smuggling, something that has raised eyebrows among human rights groups and observers who say it is unlikely such an influential officer would have acted alone.
None of the suspects will be bailed, Wanchai added.
Around 4,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were stranded in Southeast Asian waters in recent months, ping-ponged between countries reluctant to accept them until finally landing ashore on Malaysian, Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Myanmar and Thai soil.