Thai army to review troops' role in Phuket financial dispute

Fourth Army commander Lt-General Prakan Cholayuth has instructed the chief of Military Circle 41, Maj-General Theenanat Jindan-gern, to investigate a case in which five soldiers were accused of helping five civilians kidnap a Ukraine businessman, Igor Iermakova, 37, in Phuket - and punish them, if they are found guilty of wrongdoing.

Prakan cited an initial report that the soldiers acted upon a request from a Ukrainian plaintiff to clear a debt problem, saying he wasn't sure about the operation and whether the troops' supervisors knew about it. So, a probe would be launched and the guilty punished under both criminal and disciplinary codes.

Meanwhile, Theenanat, with the backing of Phuket Governor Nisit Chansomwong, told a press conference yesterday that this case - in which Phuket police arrested 10 people on Friday for illegal detention and extortion in relation to the abduction of Iermakova - was a misunderstanding.

The arrest of the 10 suspects stemmed from a complaint by the victim's wife Maryna Iermakova, 32, who alleged that a Thai woman led three soldiers to take her from her home to join her husband, who was abducted from Mitraprap Beach.

She was allegedly told by two foreign men at the scene that her husband borrowed US$500,000 (S$657,400) and that the money had to be repaid or they would kill her husband. The woman agreed to pay US$200,000 and a meeting point was set at a local bank, where she was released. Maryna contacted the Ukraine Embassy and Thai police for help, which resulted in the 10 getting arrested, but all suspects have claimed to be innocent.

Theenanat said the soldiers involved were alerted by a plaintiff - later identified as Ukrainian businessman Vladinmir Efladoff - that a transnational criminal was hiding in Phuket. Efladoff wanted the Army to investigate, under martial law, on a special-case basis because of fears the "criminal" might flee.

An initial inquiry and document check on the plaintiff confirmed he had suffered "damages", so the soldiers brought the accuser and the accused to talk at the military circle's facility, with the soldiers serving as mediators and witnesses.

"During the talks, both sides spoke in Ukrainian while a translator explained that the accused had borrowed about Bt15 million (S$600,000) from the accuser and the accused agreed to pay up at the meeting point," Theenanat said.

He added that the soldiers were outside the bank at the request of both sides, to serve as witnesses and also to watch both sides' behaviour for national security reasons.

He said the police complaint filed by the victim's wife stemmed from a misunderstanding, adding that he had discussed the incident with the Phuket police chief. He added that everyone was just performed their duty and that police could proceed on the course of justice as the victim's wife had filed a complaint. He affirmed that his subordinates had kept him updated during the operation and said they didn't extort any money.

After the press conference, the five civilians who had bailed themselves out for Bt100,000 cash deposits each, hosted a separate press conference to affirm that they didn't do anything wrong as charged by police. They said they merely assisted the soldiers with translation and accompany them.