BANGKOK - The elderly parents of a former Thai princess were taken into police custody Friday after confessing to defaming the kingdom's royal family, an institution protected by one of the world's toughest lese majeste laws.
The pair are the latest close relatives of fallen former Princess Srirasmi to face legal proceedings after a corruption scandal involving her family erupted late last year.
Apiruj Suwadee, 72, and his 66-year-old wife Wanthanee, told reporters that they were guilty of defaming the monarchy, lodging a malicious claim and asking officials to file false charges.
"We confess to all charges," Wanthanee said, her head bowed as she faced the media after a meeting with Thai police.
"We plead for mercy from the royal family," her husband added, before the couple were detained to face a bail hearing later Friday.
The police case against them centres on a former neighbour's complaint that she had been jailed for 18 months on a fraud charge brought maliciously by the Suwadee couple.
Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn divorced Srirasmi and she also renounced her royal title following the scandal, which has gripped a public unused to seeing palace intrigue play out in the open.
One of her relatives Pongpat Chayapun, the former head of Thailand's elite Central Investigation Bureau, has been slapped with a 31-year jail term for a series of convictions linked to an alleged criminal empire that spanned illegal gambling, extortion and kidnapping.
He was initially sentenced to six years in jail in January -- along with his deputy -- after admitting lese majeste under the feared "section 112" of Thailand's criminal code and for corruption.
On Thursday he received another 15 years for taking bribes to transfer police to desirable posts and for oil smuggling -- adding time to earlier sentences for money laundering and possession of rare wood.
Police have said Pongpat's group had made "false claims" to be acting on behalf of an unnamed royal to aid their underworld dealings.
The spectacular demise of the former princess's family comes at a time of heightened anxiety over the health of the country's revered but ailing monarch.
Experts say the last decade of political turmoil in Thailand is intertwined with concerns among competing elites over the direction of the kingdom once the reign of 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulaydej comes to an end.
Under the royal defamation law -- one of the world's strictest -- anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Both Thai and international media must heavily self-censor when covering the country's lese majeste rules. Even repeating details of the charges could mean breaking the law under section 112.