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Asylum Detective Speaks

The sun begins to set on the skyline of Melbourne’s suburbs as Pawin Ponshirin gathers the papers on the case that changed his life forever. Over the course of several hours, the decorated former Thai police explained how his bold prosecution of those in power led to him being hunted into exile by his family and friends.

As a police major general, Pawin led Thailand’s largest human trafficking prosecution in 2015, arresting nearly 100 suspects and gathering evidence to keep the mastermind away for decades. But five months later, he was removed from the case after pressure from the military junta, police and royal court figures.

Paween Pongsirin has started a new life in Melbourne.credit:Luis Enrique Askui

He fled in November of that year, six years after being granted asylum in Australia, overcoming fears for his family’s safety and speaking out. His allegations shocked a country reeling from two years of anti-government protests, sparked a nasty debate in Thailand’s parliament, and left the military-controlled government facing elections early next year. .

Those he accuses deny all, and Pawin is disappointed that many of those involved remain in power, but he is adamant.

He describes his case in methodical detail like a police veteran with 33 years of experience.

“I could take care of other people, but I couldn’t take care of my family,” he said, wiping away tears. “I feel my family has made a lot of sacrifices. They let me pursue my dreams. I wanted to help people. I wanted to be a good cop. It’s been hard, it’s been very hard, no one understands why I’m doing it.


The trafficking of members of the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar has been profitable for decades. Business boomed from 2004 to 2015 for the Thai network, which profited from their suffering, especially in his 2012 riots in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which focused on the Rohingya and his Muslim population. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes. The Myanmar military profited by persecuting the Rohingya, luring them into multinational trafficking networks, displacing them elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and demanding payment at each stage.

An unknown number of people were smuggled from Myanmar to Malaysia via camps in Thailand across the Andaman Sea and were tortured, deprived of food and extorted for money before being sent south. A person died on the way. The military was in charge of the operations on the Thai side. If the police mistakenly seized refugees en route, soldiers would release them from custody and send them to camps.

One journalist investigating the network estimates that the number of trafficked victims in Thailand ballooned to about 80,000 in 2014. Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson believes that the true toll of death and deprivation is “gone to history.”

Meanwhile, the soldiers tasked with overseeing Thailand’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis were being paid by traffickers.

Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan (left) in custody in 2016.

Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan (left) in custody in 2016.credit:APs

Manas Kompan, an impressive figure with a record of orchestrating the mosque massacre that left 32 dead, was appointed in 2008 to oversee a human trafficking network. After the 2014 coup, the lieutenant general was appointed an adviser to the military government.

The network began to unravel on May 1, 2015, when a mass grave was discovered in Songkhla province, near the Malaysian border. In all, 36 of his bodies were found, but the mountain was never thoroughly searched.

Pawin, who held the equivalent of Australia’s Assistant Commissioner, was called a few days later from another region to lead the investigation.

“I wasn’t part of the investigation when they first climbed the mountain, but I heard from people who climbed the mountain that the Rohingya camp where they were held was like a pigsty, like an animal. It was,” Pawin said. “There was room for hundreds of people to stay, there were so many graves and dozens of bodies were exhumed. There may be many things.

He spoke to a senior officer overseeing the recovery effort who admitted they had no intention of properly searching. “I can’t prove who they are. That’s enough case files.”

Early confusion in the operation soon gave way to sabotage. It took several weeks for the evidence Powin sought to arrive, but he later discovered that other officers had been ordered to withhold information from him.

A forensic police officer inspects a camp used by traffickers near the Thai-Malaysian border where a mass grave was discovered in May 2015.

A forensic police officer inspects a camp used by traffickers near the Thai-Malaysian border where a mass grave was discovered in May 2015.credit:APs

Human trafficking network whistleblowers were a key source of information and helped identify over 100 suspects. But the most important document, the transfer slip showing the payment from the traffickers to Manas’ bank account, became known to Powin only after the reporter informed him about the leak on his social media. I was. Using some trickery, Paween obtained evidence from his colleagues and used it to secure a warrant for his arrest.

The June 3, 2015 arrest caused a sensation. When Manas turned himself in, he appeared before the media in Bangkok in full uniform, and top-level police received him in the drawing room.

“The police also arranged a special flight to take him south using a plane owned by the Royal Thai Police,” Pawin said. “We had a very good meal according to others on board. It looked like a first class flight.”

When Pawin arrived at the Hat Yai police station in the morning to meet the suspect, he was surprised to see an armored personnel carrier outside with soldiers everywhere.

“It no longer looked like a police station, it looked more like a barracks.”

Migrants on a boat tethered to a Thai Navy vessel in the waters near Koh Lipe in May 2015.

Migrants on a boat tethered to a Thai Navy vessel in the waters near Koh Lipe in May 2015. credit:Reuters

For some time Manas had friends in high positions. His deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, was one of those who publicly vouched for him. Prawit, a former Secretary of War and one of Manas’ superior officers, has also been accused of lobbying behind the scenes on behalf of human traffickers.

Pawwin said he received a call from a well-connected officer who called on Prawit’s orders and urged him to release Manas on bail. Mr. Paween said he was shocked, but he replied that it was impossible because it would undermine the case.

“It also affects the credibility of the investigative team. If one suspect is released on bail and the other is not, what does that say about us?” Pawin said.

Asked about this year’s allegations, Prawit denied interfering in the case. He said he welcomed any evidence Pawin had, but dismissed the accusation that Manas wanted Manas to be released as false. “I had nothing to do with it,” he told Thai reporters.

Even among Pawin’s allies, Manas’ arrest was not widely welcomed. “Why are you making my life difficult?” his immediate supervisor complained at the time.

In the five months of the case, Pawin and his team identified 153 suspects (two of whom died) and arrested 91. It became Thailand’s largest and most high-profile human trafficking case, resulting in a hefty prison sentence. Manas he was imprisoned for 82 years. He died in prison in June 2021 of a heart attack.

Paween is only allowed so far. In November 2015, he was taken off the case. As a result, Robertson said, “all the big fish escaped, except Manas Kongpan.”

“It’s very clear and very important to understand that the main theme of this is impunity,” he said. They were making a lot of money from the tremendous abuse of people.”

When the Forward Party raised the issue in the Thai parliament earlier this year, the top government leaders, including Prawit, were not present. Paween’s case was brought up again in his July condemnation debate, but to no avail.

Prime Ministers Prawit and Prayut Chan-ocha oversaw Manas for years when he was running the army, and it is “discreditable” that they claim they were unaware of his activities, Robertson said. Stated.

“When Pawin was removed from the case, this was the signal to say ‘Let’s finish’.”


At the end of the strangest week of his life, Paween finds himself alone in his boss’s office.

His case was a political headache. National Police Chief Chaktip Chaijinda had been on the job for six weeks when he called for him.

There were other people to see at Chaktip, including a Brahmin monk who spent about 30 minutes in a “voodoo” ceremony. Watched through surveillance camera screens, Pawin wondered how his bosses kept his books out of his room, counted religious idols, and turned to superstition at taxpayer expense. He also found a tiger statue and remembered hearing that Chakthip liked to compare himself to ferocious animals. Rumor has it that he was feeding himself in an underground casino.

It wasn’t an innocent chat when Chakthip entered the room. Paween was discussing his career in depth. An order signed by Prawit, the deputy prime minister in charge of national security, made him fear for his personal safety by moving him to a precarious southern border state earlier in the week.

Between court appearances, Paween was speaking to police, military and Thailand’s wealthy and powerful royal court officials about his options. He even faxed the application to the royal court, but in his heart he wanted his case to be closed.

Chaktip stated: His options are exhausted.

“He dragged a chair to sit next to me,” recalls Paween. “He told me, ‘There is nothing between you and me, but you need to resign.'”

Chaktip Chaijinda, who served as Thailand's police chief from 2015 to 2020, remains active in politics.

Chaktip Chaijinda, who served as Thailand’s police chief from 2015 to 2020, remains active in politics.credit:Getty

Chakthip called a high-ranking palace official, General of Police Jumpol Manmai, who was participating in the discussion. After the phone was handed over, Jampol became displeased and told him to quit his army and live quietly.

Chaktip questioned Pawin’s motives and said he was disappointed that the promotion had gone unnoticed and that he was hurting the organization for personal reasons. I want: Who are the bad police and who are the bad soldiers?” Chaktip told Thai media.

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Since retiring, Chaktip has been involved in Prawit’s political party. Their faces were plastered on election-style placards in the country’s northeast this year.

In 2017, Jampol was dismissed from the palace and imprisoned for three years for unspecified “extremely heinous” conduct. I haven’t heard from him since.

After that Friday afternoon meeting, Pawin says other people who had promised help didn’t pick up when he called and didn’t respond to text messages. I told him to leave because he had a target on his back.

The following Monday he was on a plane to Singapore. Within weeks he was heading to Melbourne to start his new life away from his family and former acquaintances.

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Since then, he has volunteered as a cleaner in a hospital, worked in a nursery school, a factory, and other simple jobs, but is grateful to the government and the people who have helped him learn and adapt to English. He talks to his father regularly and is anxious to reunite with his daughters.

But every day, his heart is on his final case and those determined to stop it.

“I felt like I was drowning and pieces of wood were floating toward me,” Pawin says of his dealings with palace officials. “But it was a crocodile”

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Asylum Detective Speaks

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