Couple charged over death 11 years ago

Police yesterday charged a couple with murder in connection with the death 11 years ago of the woman's previous Japanese husband after her Thai partner confessed to having killed him for his business.

The death in October 2003 of Katsutoshi Tanaka was at that time declared an accident.

He was reported by his then-wife Phornchanok Chaiyapa to have died after falling from the stairs at his home.

Phornchanok and her Thai partner, Somchai Kaewbangyang, have been charged with premeditated murder and hiding a corpse in another case, involving the death of the woman's other Japanese husband Yoshinori Shimato.

Somchai had confessed to killing and dismembering Shimato, with Phornchanok's knowledge.

Police yesterday accompanied Somchai and Phornchanok, both 47 years old, to a shophouse in Samut Prakan's Bang Phli district for re-enactment of the alleged crime that took place on October 3 in 2003.

'Suffocated man with foot'

Somchai confessed to police that he had pushed Tanaka down the house stairs and used his foot to suffocate him while the Japanese man was unconscious, according to police investigators at the re-enactment yesterday.

The man said that he was jealous of Tanaka, who was with Phornchanok at the time, and that he wanted to take over Tanaka's shop selling farming tools.

Phornchanok also reportedly had claimed Bt3 million in insurance money following Tanaka's death in 2003.

Police Lt-General Suwira Songmetta, an assistant national police chief, said yesterday that investigators were collecting evidence against Somchai and Phornchanok before filing the case with the Criminal Court.

"We have evidence to prove that Tanaka's case was not caused by a fall from the stairs and that the people involved had benefited from his death. We will seek court permission for the arrest of Somchai and Phornchanok for pre-meditated murder," Suwira said.

Somchai has confessed to killing Tanaka while Phornchanok, while not entirely denying her involvement, did not admit to committing the murder, according to the senior police officer.

Suwira said that police were collecting evidence before suggesting to public prosecutors to bring this murder case to court against the couple.

During yesterday's re-enactment of the crime, Phornchanok appeared to suffer from stress and fainted. Officials later helped her regain consciousness.

Somchai's younger brother Somsak Saelim, a witness in this murder case, told police that after Tanaka's death, Somchai and Phornchanok had told him that if he was asked by anyone about the cause of the Japanese man's death, he should tell them that Tanaka had died after falling from the stairs, according to a police source.

Meanwhile, the Criminal Court yesterday granted a police request for rejection of any bail for Somchai and Phornchanok during the police investigation.

Somchai was yesterday taken to Bangkok Special Prison for detention and Phornchanok was taken to Bang Khen Women's Prison.