The row came under scrutiny after Pol Lt Gen Surachate's car was shot at on Monday (Jan 6) night. Following the incident, the former IB chief, also known as “Big Joke,” expressed his belief the shooting was linked to the purchase of a biometric identification system by the bureau.
He also said that if he were the national police chief and no arrests were made, he would have assumed responsibility for that.
Back in 2017, the Royal Thai Police signed a contract to procure a biometric identification system from a private company.
In 2018, Pol Lt Gen Surachate, who was serving as acting immigration police chief at the time, wrote to Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, proposing the cancellation of the contract because of delays in acquiring the system.
He also questioned the biometric system's worthiness, saying it might not be worth the 2.1 billion baht spent on it, but nothing happened as the Royal Thai Police gave the green light for the system to be rolled out at airports.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has been looking into the procurement and Pol Lt Gen Surachate said he would be soon be called in to give information about it.
Meanwhile, an audio clip which is said to be related to the shooting was leaked to social media yesterday (Jan 9).
Deputy police spokesman, Pol Col Kissana Phathanacharoen, later confirmed it was a conversation between Pol Gen Chakthip and his deputy, Pol Gen Wirachai Songmetta, who has been handling the case from the start.
In the clip, Pol Gen Chakthip was heard warning Pol Gen Wirachai that the Metropolitan Police Bureau was handling the case, so he should step aside and wait for the bureau's report.
Pol Gen Chakthip was also heard saying that a police general should not take orders from “a police lieutenant general,” and that Pol Gen Wirachai should not do anything that makes his boss lose trust in him.
The police chief also told him not to hold press conferences about the case anymore, because it makes it look as if the shooting had been planned in advance.
Pol Gen Wirachai yesterday admitted to having a phone conversation with Pol Gen Chakthip, but he declined to say whether the police chief had ordered him off the case.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday acknowledged the conflict between Pol Lt Gen Surachate and Pol Gen Chakthip, saying that he had told them to clear the air before the conflict gets out of hand.
Pol Gen Chakthip is currently on a trip abroad.
Pol Lt Gen Surachate was a close aide of Gen Prawit and was seen to be influential in the police force. However, he was forced into a civilian post as an adviser to the Prime Minister's Office last year without a clear reason given. Speculation has emerged that it had something to do with the procurement of the biometric system.
In a related development, lawyer Sittra Biabangkerd who filed a complaint about the biometric system to the NACC yesterday asked the anti-graft agency to question Pol Gen Chakthip and three other senior police officers about its procurement.
On progress in the shooting investigation, Pol Gen Wirachai said yesterday that forensic examiners had found all eight bullets that were fired into Pol Lt Gen Surachate's car. Investigators are trying to determine the type of gun used in the shooting, he said.