Top court upholds convictions in murder of Australian auditor Wansley

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower-court ruling that had sentenced a former executive of Kaset Thai Sugar Co to life imprisonment for his role in the 1999 murder of Australian auditor Michael Wansley.

The three defendants were Bunpan Suthiwiriyawan, former chief of personnel and public relations for Kaset Thai Sugar in Nakhon Sawan; Bunpan's brother Somchok, who was former staff member of Thai Identity Sugar in Uttaradit; and another man identified as Sompong Buasakul.

The three men had been charged with conspiring to commit murder, although they denied the charges.

In the original case, prosecutors accused mill owner and Kaset Thai Sugar manager Pradit Siriviriyakul of hiring Bunpan, Somchok and Sompong to murder Wansley by firing at him while he was travelling to the sugar mill in Nakhon Sawan province in a van.

It was alleged that Wansley - who was auditing the mill on behalf of South Sathorn Planners Co - had uncovered fraud at the mill, which was under debt rehabilitation, and had refused to keep quiet about it.

Prosecutors said the Australian auditor died instantly after the bullets hit his head and body.

The Criminal Court on September 5, 2006, sentenced Bunpan to life in prison for being an accomplice in the murder, handed down death sentences to Somchok and Sompong for committing murder, and acquitted Pradit for lack of solid evidence that he had hired the three to commit the crime.

Prosecutors took the case to a higher court, asking that Pradit be punished, while the other three defendants also appealed against their sentences. The Court of Appeals on July 13, 2011, upheld the lower court's ruling. The three defendants lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision to sentence Bunpan to life imprisonment because there was solid and circumstantial evidence plus witness testimonies to incriminate Bunpan for being an accomplice in the murder.

However, the court struck down the lower courts' ruling to sentence Somchok and Sompong to death and instead sentenced them to life imprisonment for being accomplices in the murder.