Top Thai cops jailed in corruption case that toppled Crown Princess Srirasmi

This file picture taken on May 13, 2010 shows Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (left) and Princess Srirasmi (right) as they attend the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Two senior Thai police officers allegedly at t
This file picture taken on May 13, 2010 shows Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (left) and Princess Srirasmi (right) as they attend the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Two senior Thai police officers allegedly at the centre of a corruption network whose exposure led to the downfall of the senior Thai princess were jailed Friday under Thailand's controversial lese majeste law. -- PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Two senior Thai police officers allegedly at the centre of corruption network whose exposure led to the downfall of a senior Thai princess were jailed Friday under Thailand's controversial lese majeste law.

Pongpat Chayapun, the former head of Thailand's elite Central Investigation Bureau, and his ex-deputy Kowit Vongrongrot were arrested in November alongside a string of top brass in a corruption probe that went on to implicate relatives of Princess Srirasmi, then the Crown Prince's wife.

She later renounced her royal title and was divorced by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn in a dramatic and opaque moment of palace intrigue that shocked Thailand's elite at a time of heightened anxiety over the health of the country's revered but ailing monarch.

Both officers were sentenced to six years in jail Friday after admitting lese majeste under section 112 of Thailand's criminal code and for corruption, a court official said.

"He (Pongpat) pleaded guilty to charges, including insulting the monarchy, and the judge sentenced him to five years plus twelve months in jail," an official at Bangkok Criminal Court, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

"That sentence was commuted from 12 years because he confessed to the judges," the official added.

A second official said Kowit had also been handed a six year sentence.

Under the royal defamation law - 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.

At least 17 people were arrested during the investigation of the corrupt group, who were accused of amassing illicit fortunes through corrupt patronage networks as well as gambling and oil rackets.

The Thai authorities have yet to give a full explanation of how those charged in the corruption network defamed the monarchy.

At the time of their arrest, police said Pongpat and his group had made "false claims" to be acting on behalf of an unnamed royal in their allegedly corrupt dealings.

But senior police officers charged with investigating the circle hinted that they were unable to elaborate any further because doing so could in itself breach lese majeste laws.

Both Thai and international media must heavily self-censor when covering the country's lese majeste rules. Even repeating details of the charges could mean breaking the law under section 112.

Rights groups say there has been a rise in both charges and convictions under Thailand's royal slur law since the army seized power, with academics saying it has been politicised to go after the "Red Shirt" movement that is broadly supportive of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The royal family is a highly sensitive topic in the politically turbulent kingdom where 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest reigning monarch, is revered by many as a demi-god but is entering the twilight of his reign.