|Some of the seized items on display|
Police said a search of their homes revealed assets worth a total of more than a billion baht ($30.52 million). Police showed slides of goods they said were found at eleven safe houses in the capital Bangkok and around the country. One slide showed a large collection of what appear to be antique Buddhist statues and stacks of Thai currency on the floor. Other photographs showed rows of luxury cars parked in a garage, cases of gold jewelry, ivory tusks and paintings. More officers may have been involved in the range of offences under investigation, national police chief Somyot told a news conference. Those offences included bribery and extortion, he added.Private collectors were forbidden from owning many of the items, violators face a maximum five-year prison term and/or a maximum fine of Bt500,000 (1 Thai Baht equals 0.030 US Dollar). It seems that "many of the statues and images were possibly brought to Thailand from a neighbouring country", rather than having been taken from existing Thai collections. The verification and authentication process of the approximately 20,000 items was expected to take about two months. Police and soldiers also raided an antique shop off Chaeng Wattana Road in northern Bangkok and seized a number of items suspected of being bought from Pongpat.
Another racket he seems to have been involved in was "dealing in protected species, part of the loot being rare animal hides and wood from endangered trees", reportedly 60 lorry loads of that.
The items seized from Pongpat were later announced to have included ten Khmer pieces, and thirty antique Buddhas.Then it appeared that on closer examination by authentication experts that half of the art seized from Pongpat's collection turned out to be fakes:
The Fine Arts Department [...] chief Borvornvate Rungrujee was speaking to the media a day after fine art experts began examining the seized items to authenticate them. "At a glance, about half of all seized objects might be fake," he said. Mr Borvornvate said, however, 13 Khmer-style carved sandstone antiques found in Pol Lt Gen Pongpat's possession do not belong to Thailand, but are believed to have originated in Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. He said the antiques were among 80 large-sized objects authenticated so far by fine art experts. He said the value of the authenticated items stood at more than 50 million baht. "The 13 Khmer-style carved sandstone objects are mainly works of art from the early Buddhist era. "They should have. been kept at religious places or Khmer temples, and should not be owned by an individual. "These antiquities might have been brought into the country from Cambodia, Myanmar or Laos," Mr Borvornvate said.The objects that appear to have come from other countries will be repatriated, but items that belong to Thailand will probably be put on display at the National Museum once the case is over.
The 50 items, dating back to Khmer, Lao, Burmese, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin kingdoms, will be returned to their sites of origin, while an investigation is underway to find out how the former Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) chief acquired them. "These items cannot be possessed or owned without proof of import," Borwornwej said. Of the items, 13 come under the department's Category 1, comprised of deities and Buddha images built in Khmer style; while the remaining 37 come under Category 2, or Buddha images or Hindu deities built in different kingdoms at different times, he said. The artefacts are made from sandstone, wood or metal depending on where and when they were built. Another 100 items have been inspected and found to be imitations, though there are still more than 10,000 items awaiting identification and authentication, Bowornwej said. He estimated that the 50 items proved to be authentic, so far, should be worth about Bt50 million in total.The photographs of all seized items will soon be posted on the department's website, www.finearts.go.th, for the public to view.
|Part of Pongpat collection|