BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai police said Tuesday they have charged a third high-ranking officer with lese majeste and all three with corruption, confiscating two billion baht (S$79 million) in assets in what has become a rare internal probe of the country's top brass.
Authorities announced the royal defamation charge against marine police chief Boonsueb Praithuen, making him the third charged alongside Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapun and his deputy Kowit Vongrongrot in the widening probe.
Under Thailand's lese majeste legislation, one of the world's strictest, anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
The three senior officers, who have been dismissed from their posts, are also facing a slew of bribery and corruption charges - including the running of illegal gambling and oil rackets - in what police described as "Pongpat's network".
Four more officers and five civilians have also been charged in the probe, though they are not currently charged under the lese majeste law, national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung said.
"The suspects had been making false claims to gain benefits through police promotions, illegal gambling and illegal oil trading," Somyot said at a press conference in Bangkok in reference to the lese majeste charges.
He did not elaborate on the nature of the "false claims" made in relation to the charge.
Even repeating details of the charges could mean breaking the law under section 112 of Thailand's criminal code.
"This case is very important and very sensitive so police may not make detailed disclosures about the ongoing investigations," Somyot said.
Police said they have confiscated an estimated two billion baht (S$79 million) worth of assets from 15 different locations.
Confiscated goods were projected onto a screen and showed a treasure trove of luxury items including ivory tusks, antique furniture, dozens of Buddhist and Hindu statues, paintings, gold ingots, jewellery, two motorbikes and hard cash, both in baht and foreign currencies.
Somyot said he was confident further assets were hidden and that Pongpat had confessed to the charges against him.
Rights groups say there has been a rise in both charges and convictions under Thailand's royal slur law since the army seized power on May 22.
Under martial law - declared two days before the coup by then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is now premier - suspects are tried under military courts, where there is no right to appeal. Earlier cases were handled in civilian courts.
The royal family is a highly sensitive topic in the politically turbulent kingdom where 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest reigning monarch who is currently in a Bangkok hospital, is revered by many as a demi-god.