A former police chief, dubbed Joe Ferrari due to his vast wealth, was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday, after he and five of his subordinates were caught on camera torturing a suspect to death.
A seventh defendant was sentenced to five years and four months over the incident, which resulted in the asphyxiation of a 24-year-old man held in custody after being arrested on suspicion of selling methamphetamine pills.
Footage of the homicide, captured at central Thailand’s Nakhon Sawan Police Station on Aug. 6 last year, shows officers placing six plastic bags over the victim’s head while another beats him. The man’s death was initially recorded as an amphetamine overdose. But later that month, the video was leaked by a whistleblower at the station, who claimed Ferrari—real name Thitisan Utthanaphon—and his accomplices were trying to extort the victim out of about $60,000.
Ferrari, in his early 40s, and his accomplices were sentenced in the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases on Wednesday morning. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but the court ultimately reduced the accused’s sentences to life because it found they did not intend to kill the victim.
Ferrari, whose vast wealth and collection of luxury cars shone a light on the issue of corruption within Thailand’s police force, initially went on the run as the video leaked and investigators rounded up the officers allegedly involved. It was during this time that authorities searched his luxurious mansion in Bangkok, replete with multiple garages, and discovered a total of 29 cars—including a rare Lamborghini Aventador, a Ferrari, four Porsches, six Mercedes-Benz, three Audis, and a Bentley.
It’s believed that Ferrari, despite earning a meagre salary of about $1,225 a month, garnered his wealth by confiscating luxury cars that were illegally imported by would-be tax dodgers and selling them at public auctions.
A member of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that any informants and police involved in the seizure of such vehicles stand to get a cut of between 20 and 25 percent of the auction price. According to investigators, Ferrari confiscated 410 cars between 2011 and 2021, 405 of which earned him a collective payout of $17,285,640.
Such exorbitant earnings aroused suspicion among financial authorities and attracted the attention of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, who investigated Ferrari’s improbable wealth alongside allegations around abuse of authority. Thailand’s Customs Department claimed the police chief was eligible to be rewarded for the illegal cars he seized.
Ferrari eventually handed himself into authorities on Aug. 26 last year, before claiming the suspect's death was an “accident” and denying accusations of corruption. Dialling into a late-night press conference organised by police soon after, he declared: “I intended to get the information so I can destroy the drug business… I made a mistake. My subordinates just followed my order and I take sole responsibility.”
“I did not have any intention to kill him. I just wanted to do my work.”
The highly publicised case has inflamed calls for police reform in Thailand, with activists claiming it exposes the systemic corruption and malpractice that has beleaguered the country’s police force for years. Early last year the Thai government approved a draft amendment to the National Police Act in an apparent bid to address the issue and expedite the process of reform. It remains under deliberation in parliament.
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