Thai king's former aide jailed for royal defamation

Palace affairs are often difficult to penetrate in Thailand, where harsh defamation laws make any discussion of the monarchy extremely sensitive

A senior aide to Thailand's new King Maha Vajiralongkorn has been jailed for five and a half years for royal defamation and other offences, police said, the latest secrecy-shrouded downfall of a palace official.

The verdict, handed down by a military court on Friday, comes less than two weeks after the palace sacked the king's deputy chief of staff Chitpong Thongkum for behaving "in a way that brought about distrust and caused severe damage to the royal family".

Palace affairs are often difficult to penetrate in Thailand, where harsh lese majeste laws shield the royal family from scrutiny and make any discussion of the monarchy extremely sensitive.

Media must heavily self-censor when reporting on the royal family.

In addition to violating the royal insult law, Chitpong was also convicted of "committing theft in state offices" and breaching medical and cosmetic laws, according to a police statement.

"The total prison term is four years and 18 months," the statement said, without elaborating on how the statutes were violated.

A military court spokesman declined to comment on the case.

The initial palace statement firing Chitpong accused him of making "false claims" about Vajiralongkorn for personal gain, "releasing the king's personal medical records and stealing his assets".

It said Chitpong was in charge of security for the monarch, who took the throne last year following the October death of his revered father.

The royal succession was Thailand's first in 70 years and was seen as a sensitive time for the kingdom. Vajiralongkorn has yet to attain the massive popularity enjoyed by his father.

Chitpong, a former Air Vice Marshal, is the latest in a string of people close to the new monarch to publicly fall from grace.

On Thursday security officers escorted another senior palace aide, former Grand Chamberlain Jumpol Manmai, to a Bangkok police station to hear charges of land encroachment for allegedly building a mansion on park land.

Speculation about Jumpol's fate had swirled for weeks with authorities refusing to disclose his whereabouts after word leaked he was under investigation.

Jumpol, who served as deputy national police chief before rising up the palace ranks, was also sacked in a royal statement last month that said he had abused his position for personal gain.

He has been jailed while he awaits trial but is not currently facing royal insult charges, according to police.

In 2015 three people -- including a celebrity soothsayer -- were arrested under the royal insult law for improperly citing ties to Vajiralongkorn to make money.

The soothsayer and one other suspect died in military custody soon after their arrests.

The year before half a dozen relatives of Vajiralongkorn's ex-wife were arrested and later jailed on lese majeste charges for allegedly abusing their connections to the then-crown prince.