Interview with Khemachart Prakyhongmanee
Khemachart Prakyhongmanethee, Deputy Director of Bureau of Foreign Affairs and Transnational Crime at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), on DSI investigations
Khun Khemachart, how long have you been with the DSI and what did you do prior to working for the Department?
Before starting my work at the DSI I worked as a detective in an investigation unit of the Royal Thai Police (RTP) for around 8 years. I then transferred to the DSI where I now work for about 12 years. 9 years ago, I started working in the foreign affairs and transnational crime section. Before that I was part of a surveillance unit.
Why did you decide to leave the RTP and become part of the DSI?
I looked at the work I was doing at the RTP and at the same time studied the DSI act to establish the department. I was fond of it as it allows for its senior members to keep investigating actively even as they get older. At the RTP duties can change a bit away from investigative to more administrative work. Here at the DSI, I can actively investigate much longer, maybe until I retire.
What is the focus of your bureau’s work in particular? I assume, you deal mainly with foreigners?
Yes, due to the nature of my responsibilities at the Bureau of Foreign Affairs, I mainly deal with foreigners. The nationality does not however stop us from investigating a suspect or a person of interest. They are Thai or foreign. Generally speaking, our bureau has three main priorities. Number one is child pornography and the abuse and trafficking of children, then economic crimes such as credit card fraud and a third area which relates to international scams where unsuspecting people are lured into transferring large amounts of money to internationally acting, criminal organisations which can be based here in Thailand but operate in 3 or 4 other countries too. The crimes are transnational.
A further focus lies on facilitating cooperation with other countries from joint investigations to extradition of suspected and convicted criminals. Co-operations occur when either a foreign agency or government requests our help with an investigation or the other way around.
In 2015, Thailand has introduced a new child pornography law. How has this impacted your work? Do you feel you have all the political support you need to carry out your investigations?
The law you are referring to came into effect in December 2015, only a few months after it was agreed upon.
In Thai history, this is one the fastest laws ever to become implemented, alluding to its importance. It is important for it covers the aspect of child pornography which in many cases leads to other offences. Child pornography can be the starting point, leading to child abuse or human trafficking. Sometimes pornography comes into play after abuse and trafficking have already happened. This is very interesting for us and the law gives us another way into these kinds of investigations.
Much more important however is the cooperation that is necessary for our investigations and this is also part of the legislative act to establish the DSI in the first place. We work with a number of partners, co- operation groups from the RTP for example. In law enforcement you cannot do these things on your own. Especially as our main field of investigation regarding child pornography is the internet, we work together with computer and forensic experts from the RTP online and on the ground.
What does a typical investigation look like? Are you observing specific fora in the internet or do investigations include active, undercover operations?
Both. We make use of all powers that we are granted under the corresponding sections of the DSI act and these include undercover operations and active participation in internet forums. The internet is hugely important in the field of child pornography today as it is where most of the criminals act so we need to have direct access and know what exactly is happening. The internet is where we pull a lot of our evidence from and therefore it is exceptionally important to our chain of custody and what we present to a public prosecutor when an investigation has finished.
How do investigations typically start? On initiative by the DSI or based on concerns and suspicions brought forward by the civil society or other agencies?
There are many different ways. One channel would be via request by a law enforcement agency of another country. Another channel would be concerns brought to our attention by the local community. This happens a lot here in Thailand. The DSI does not exclusively work with law enforcement agencies but also with local communities, NGOs and social workers. We have an extensive network here. For example, we investigated the case of a man in a rural Thai village who kept inviting students to his house for grooming sessions. They began taking baths together and he would take pictures of the students. This behaviour was then reported to the local authorities and we started to investigate. We began analysing his behaviour, finding out his routine and observe. In general, once we find out what nationality the suspect has, we contact the liaison officer or embassy in question and see if we can find any further background information. Furthermore, together with NGOs, social workers and psychologists, we speak to victims and their families and assess the possibilities of them identifying the offender. Another example here of why we cannot work alone!
When does the case become transnational and therefore a case you would be working on?
Not only the possession of child pornographic materials is illegal but also, and in particular, sharing this material. The man in question was sharing his pictures with a large group of people from other countries in Europe and Asia using the ‘dark web’. These people do not always share pictures however. We have recently closed a case where the offender shared stories about what he had done to the children within the same group. He wrote down what he did and then went on to share these stories over the internet. He later confessed to his crimes. In future, we also want to look into the financial aspect of this. We would like to investigate more with regards to financial transactions that happen when this kind of material is being shared.
How big is your caseload and how many cases have you successfully closed?
Since the implementation of the new law in December 2015 we have successfully closed 13 cases all over Thailand resulting in arrests. Over 10 cases are still ongoing and a number of cases were investigated but sufficient evidence could not be gathered. The cases itself vary largely in their details, but they are all big cases in one respect or another. In one case we arrested a Japanese national who abused at least seven children, another case involved at least 25 victims including the offender’s own daughter. In terms of prosecution, the case gets bigger when we find evidence not only for possession of illegal material but also evidence that the suspect has been sharing it.
The DSI has recently raided the home of a British national in the north of the country. This case got some attention in the international press. Was this a good example of the DSI’s work?
Yes, absolutely. In this specific case, US American authorities had informed us about the upload of child pornographic images from a specific IP address. After an investigation on the ground, we could close this case successfully and the offender has confessed to all charges. Again, we did not work alone though. The DSI is based in Bangkok and investigating a case in some rural village can sometimes take months. In this case, we investigated for about 6 months. So we need the RTP and local police to help with the surveillance etc. Furthermore, in order to collect and analyse evidence properly and in accordance with protocol, we do not raid houses by ourselves. We take forensic teams, for instance from the Ministry of Justice or the RTP, and computer experts with us that help search the suspects’ house. They take evidence from everywhere, not just the computer – the house is for instance searched for traces of sperm or saliva to look for possible signs of child abuse or trafficking. Like I said earlier, sometimes child pornography is only the beginning and this case is an example for that. Based on evidence and victim interviews, the offender in this case will also face charges under the human trafficking law. The crime scene and the victims can be of great importance for prosecution later on.
Another thing we do have is a media operations team. At the end of an operation someone will sit down with the media team to explain what the investigation was about and what we have found. Sometimes we work together with embassies when we encounter a language barrier. I recently lead the raid of a house of a Swiss national in Pattaya where we found over 10.000 illegal pictures of children. The suspect in question would only speak German though so we cooperated with the respective embassy. He has by now confessed that he had been abusing children in that house for over 4 years and we are expecting him to be convicted in the near future. This case was very large in terms of the numbers of photographs we found – like a child pornography industry.
Once this man is convicted, will he serve his full prison sentence in Thailand?
He will serve a prison sentence in Thailand and then he will be deported. It is our job to keep the house clean. In the same vein, sometimes we get information on suspects and we find evidence that these people are engaged in criminal activities we work together with Thai Immigration to deport these people. Some- times we investigate, have some evidence but not enough for prosecution. We send our report Thai immi- gration and many times, these people can be deported and we clean the house this way. In these cases, we also follow-up by reporting the person in question to the respective embassy so that a possible investigation can continue in their home country.
What factors are important when it comes to working together with other countries? Are there countries you work with more than others, particularly in the region? What about Cambodia and the Philippines in particular?
The most important factor is the state of the law in the respective country. When we cooperate with a coun- try that has child pornography laws in place, similar to those in Thailand, working together is very easy. In other cases, when there are no such laws in place, cooperation can be more difficult. Sometimes people in the other country are not aware of what is happening and what consequences the actions of a criminal in question could have. Regarding these countries, we do a lot of explaining.
Why do you think some countries do not have laws in this regard?
Politics, each country is different and domestic politics can help or hinder the implementation of these kind of laws. In Thailand as well, it took a long time. I cannot tell you the reasons, but we only just implemented the child pornography law ourselves.
With regards to the countries you were referring to, Cambodia and the Philippines, our future focus here rests on child sex tourism. We have to work closely together in particular with those two countries to make progress on this issue. Many paedophiles that are arrested here in Thailand frequently cross the border to Cambodia, cooperation there is key. Many offenders also flee to Cambodia to evince prosecution in Thai- land. Cooperation with the government and NGOs in Cambodia is good, but we want to forge it more and more in the future.
How does the cooperation with local NGOs work exactly and what is the focus regarding the victims especially when an investigation is finished?
In my opinion, the problem with some NGOs is that they do not know their role. At times, they investigate themselves. So we had to channel the cooperation to make it better. We now have a child advocacy centre in Chiang Mai where NGOs and law enforcement agencies come together and cooperate. This has been very successful and this centre will now expand and open its doors also in Pattaya and Phuket. Here, we bring together law enforcement, NGOs and social workers to investigate and support the victims during and after a case. It is very important to stress that our work does not end with prosecution of offenders. Our job is to protect these children and also keep them from falling back into the same environment after a case is closed. The investigation is only the beginning.
Thank you very much, Deputy Director Khemachart, for this interview.
The interview was conducted by Jan Kliem, Program Officer at CPG.