Thai police charged after paying trickster bribes for jobs

Thailand's police force is plagued by a cash-for-jobs culture

Six Thai police officers seeking promotion face charges after they were duped into paying bribes totalling $130,000 to a trickster masquerading online as a senior officer, highlighting a cash-for-jobs culture in the force.

The officers were allegedly conned by a taxi driver who used a profile photo of Major-General Surachate Hakparn as a fake profile on LINE, Thailand's leading social media platform.

Surachate is the high-profile number two of Thailand's Tourist Police and is better known by his nickname "Big Joke", which reflects his seniority rather than sense of humour.

One officer who paid $31,000 to the scammer in 2016 was coincidentally later promoted, Surachate told AFP, boosting the credibility of the ruse for another year.

"It was an absolutely false claim. I'm angry since I've heard about the scam since 2016 but couldn't catch him," he told AFP.

Other bribes ranged from $3,000 to $65,342, he said.

"Scams like this are common during police reshuffles, but the strange part is that this time high-ranking colonels and superintendents have been caught," Surachate added.

Taxi driver Paichit Saiya, 45, was arrested in Bangkok on Monday and charged with fraud as well as breaching the tough Computer Crime law.

The six police officers face both criminal charges and internal police disciplinary measures, Surachate added.

"In order to make an example they will be prosecuted. The police must work for the public and there should be no bribery in appointments."

Thailand's 200,000-strong police force has an influential role in a strictly hierarchical society.

Senior police operate complex patronage networks and sit on the boards of powerful public committees and private businesses alike, promoting allies and demoting rivals.

The last police chief declared his assets at around $11 million. He now runs the country's Football Association.

But lower ranks are poorly paid, with a new entrant earning around $460 a month.

Thais routinely scoff at their police for being graft-prone, with "tea money" transactions a daily reality to avoid police action over minor infringements.

The ruling junta has moved to rein in what its described as a rampant corruption culture among the police -- but it rarely prosecutes allegations of graft within the army.