A major manhunt is underway in Thailand for a former senior police officer who allegedly killed a drug suspect in custody while trying to extort money from him.
Arrest warrants were issued for seven officers charged with murder after a video emerged of a man suffocating after placing plastic bags over his head.
The group was trying to extort two million Thai baht (£44,399) from the man.
A spokesman for the Royal Thai Police said five of the group allegedly involved had been arrested, but two were still on the run after the August 5 incident at the police station in Nakhon Sawan province, north Bangkok.
Among them is Police Colonel Thetsan Othnavon, nicknamed “Joe Ferrari” because of his collection of sports cars. He was dismissed from the post of chief of Muang police station when the allegations surfaced.
A leaked closed-circuit video of the incident sparked public outrage after it was shared on a lawyer’s Facebook page earlier this week. Sitra Piyabangkird said an officer at the police station gave it to her.
The suspect shows the handcuffed man being led into a room, his head covered with a plastic bag. Then the officers assaulted him and threw him to the ground and put more bags on his head.
It seemed that someone knelt on him for a while.
The man, identified by Thai media as 24-year-old Jirapong Thanapat, has become limp. Police try to revive him with a jug of water and CPR.
Another lawyer, Disha Kitiotiyanan, posted an account of the alleged murder on his Facebook account after receiving a complaint from a junior police officer.
It is alleged that officers first tried to extort 1 million baht (£22,199) from him to pay for his release before doubling the demand on the orders of Paul Cole Othnavon.
After the suspect’s death, he allegedly ordered his men to take the body to the hospital and said the man died of a methamphetamine overdose.
The junior officer said that a woman arrested at the same time was released.
Swanpracharak Hospital issued a statement confirming receipt of the body on 5 August, and it was reported that the man had collapsed and died while fleeing from the police. An internal audit is underway.
Meanwhile, a specialized team of investigators has been assigned to investigate the case against the officers.
Police said they were working “around the clock” to arrest the two suspects, who are still at large.
“The Police Chief has instructed the Immigration Police, Border Police and all units to remain on alert to apprehend the remaining police officers and bring them to justice,” Police Colonel Kissana Vathancharoen told Sky News.
As part of the investigation, police found 29 cars registered in the Pol Col Utthanaphon name including supercars from Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley, according to Thai media.
Activists are now calling for a full and transparent investigation into police misconduct in Thailand.
“A trial completely independent of the Thai police is needed if there is any hope of justice for the torture and murder of Jirapong Thanapat,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Successive Thai governments have had a long history of failing to ensure accountability for even the most egregious police abuses against people in custody.
The police spokesman agreed that the case was not “a good picture of the Royal Thai Police as a whole”, but added that justice would be served.
“There are a lot of good cops, but if there is a bad cop, we have to deal with them. We have to take serious and disciplined action and also criminal action against them. So we have to separate the bad cop from the good cop,” said Paul Cole Phathanacharoen.