Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, formerly the park chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, found himself entangled in courtroom litigation, battling accusations linked to the vanishing of a local Karen rights activist – Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a case that unfolded almost a decade ago. Even though exonerated of the severest charge of murder, he didn’t walk out free but was assigned a three-year prison term for failing to perform his duty linked to Billy’s questionable detention. A case that has captivated the international human rights communities and stirred the local media.
Chaiwat, enthused to challenge his conviction, anchored on Section 157 of the nation’s Criminal Code pertaining to public officials’ operations, has his sights set on the appeal court. Considering this, bail of 800,000 baht was set by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases, but under the condition that he remains within the country.
Reports indicated that the last visuals of Billy were dating back to April 17, 2014. On that day, Chaiwat, accompanied by fellow park officers, apprehended Billy at a checkpoint adjacent to Bang Kloi village in the Kaeng Krachan district of Phetchaburi. He was allegedly in possession of wild bee honey and a motorcycle.
The timing of this detention coincided with Billy’s proposed meeting with local Karen villagers. The agenda at hand was the planning of a hearing session about a lawsuit against the park officers, including Chaiwat for allegedly instigating forced evictions and igniting their habitats.
Chaiwat found himself culpable of dereliction when he failed to inform the correct authorities and defer Billy’s case to the local law enforcement.
Contradicting reports arose regarding the execution of Billy’s detention; while one witness testified seeing the four defendants orchestrating Billy’s move to a vehicle, he emphasized that no weapons were involved in this process. However, other testimonies to certify the defendants’ claims of Billy’s release near an intersection were not available, further complicating Billy’s whereabouts.
In the context of the murder allegations, the court operated on forensic evidence that failed to confirm that the found bone fragments in 2019 were linked to Billy when the DSI had first tried to press murder charges. The DNA evidence was considered inconclusive by the prosecutors.
The available evidence left grey areas around Billy’s status. It neither confirmed whether he was dead nor alive, and also wasn’t enough to implicate the four defendants for committing murder.
Though this debacle is far from over as Pornpen Khongkhachornkiart, the legal representative of Billy’s wife, has stated her intention to challenge the ruling in the higher court. According to her, Billy’s legal status remains a “missing person” and it becomes a mandatory duty for the state to clarify his existence.
On hearing challenging verdict, Pinnapa “Mueno” Preuksapan, the wife of Billy, found herself overwhelmed with emotions. She pledged to carry on her pursuit of truth around her husband’s mysterious disappearance.
Previously, Chaiwat was relieved from his official duties owing to the allegations surrounding the incineration of local Karen villagers’ homes in the national park, a matter that unfolded approx decade ago. In spite of this, he contested the decision and was reinstated as a civil servant by the Phetchaburi Administrative Court in September the previous year.
In February, Chaiwat was endorsed as the new chief of the National Parks Office. In response to the ongoing court case, the director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Athapol Charoenshunsa stated that Chaiwat is cleared to assume his duties persistently as the case’s final verdict was yet to be finalized.