Exhumed body believed to be Akeyuth
A body believed to be missing yellow-shirt supporter and accused Ponzi scheme scammer Akeyuth Anchanbutr was found in a crude grave near Jingjo mountain in Phatthalung's Muang district on Wednesday, police said.
Pol Col Chaovalat Plengsiang, superintendent of Muang district police station, told reporters that the body was found in a crude grave about one kilometre from Jingjo mountain.
He said the man exhumed had likely been dead for about five days. The body was naked and had started to bloat. There were bruises on the face and neck.
He said police were awaiting results of a forensic examination to confirm the victim's identity and likely cause of death.
Arunee Suthornpat, Akeyuth's sister, told reporters that the body's features and appearance were similar to her brother. A birthmark on the ear was consistent with it being her missing brother.
Ms Arunee said she believed it was Akeyuth, but would await confirmation.
"I don't think this killing was just done by a group of young men. I think there's much more to this," she added.
Akeyuth, 54, had been missing since Thursday night. His driver, Santiphap Pengduang, was subsequently arrested and confessed to murdering him. Another suspect apprehended on Tuesday has said he helped hide the body in Phatthalung, according to police.
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Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit Thoopkrachang, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said at least five people were believed involved in the plot to murder the former pyramid share scheme operator.
He named them as: Mr Santiphap, 24; his father Sgt Maj 1st Class Itthiporn Pengduang, 59; Chaowalit Woonchum, 23; Prakarn Songkhao, 24; and Thivakorn Kuathong, 19.
Mr Prakarn was the only suspect still at large.
Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit, who went to Phatthalung to inspect the crime scene with a team of police, said Mr Santiphap had made had again changed his version of events. The driver initially told investigators that he shot Akeyuth. Now, the suspect said he strangled him to death.
According to Mr Santiphap's latest statement, the plot to murder Akeyuth was hatched three months in advance.
The suspect said he and his co-conspirators had planned to kill Akeyuth and steal his money. They knew he usually withdrew five million to 15 million baht each time he visited a bank.
"We initially planned to shoot him (Akeyuth) and hide his body, but we didn't have the opportunity so we decided to strangle him in Bung Thong Lang and take the body to Jingjo mountain," Mr Santipap said, according to Pol Lt Gen Kamronwit
Somnuk Kuathong, the father of suspect Thivakorn, told police he did not believe his son was involved in the murder conspiracy.
"Mr Chaowalit came to my son and asked him to take him to Asia intersection in Phatthalung on his motorbike. My son did not know Mr Chaowalit was a part of a murder plot," Mr Somnuk said.
Akeyuth's lawyer Suwat Apaipak said on Wednesday, before the body was found, that the disappearance and possible murder of his client was politically motivated.
Mr Suwat, a lawyer for the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy, said he did not believe the statement by Mr Santiphap, who confessed that he killed Akeyuth because he wanted to steal the five million baht he had withdrawn from the bank.
If the suspect wanted to steal the money he would have taken it first and then hidden the body, he said.
The lawyer alleged Mr Santiphap has a long criminal record and had previously worked with a chief of military staff who was involved in an abduction case.
He did not think the driver killed Akeyuth because he wanted to take his money. The suspect attempted to hide the body before taking the money.
"I don't think the motive was the suspect's anger bercause his boss fired his girlfriend. The plot was well planned and the money issue was just a diversion.
"Preliminary information suggests that a highly influential figure who wanted Akeyuth dead was behind the murder plot, but I don't want to disclose the information at this time because it would affect police inquiries," Mr Suwat said.
He insisted the plan to murder his client involved many people and was politically motivated.
Lt Gen Sakol Chuentrakul, the 4th Army chief, said Mr Santiphap's father had admitted that his son came to see him in Phatthalung province to ask him to help bury Akeyuth's body.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said the driver's father had confessed to police that his son gave him two million baht of the stolen money.
"There's nothing complicated in this case. Akeyuth hired someone to work for him without checking his background.
"The motive was to steal five million baht and that's it. The case has no connection with any chief of military staff," Mr Chalerm said.
Akeyuth had long been a staunch critic of and campaigner against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Akeyuth fled overseas to avoid being charged over a collapsed pyramid share scheme in 1985. He returned to Thailand after the 20-year statute of limitations relating to the case expired.