In bizarre mix-up, 9 Israeli businessmen briefly detained by Thai army

Sales team arrested at police station after soldiers mistakenly claim they don’t have licenses for product they’re pitching to cops

Illustrative photo of Thai soldiers, May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand (photo credit: AP /Apichart Weerawong)
Illustrative photo of Thai soldiers, May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand (photo credit: AP /Apichart Weerawong)

A group of Israelis were briefly detained by Thai soldiers this week while making a business pitch at Bangkok’s police headquarters in what officers have described as a “misunderstanding.”

The embarrassing incident comes at a time of tense relations between the military and parts of the police as Thailand’s junta vows to root out corruption and political loyalties in the graft-tainted force.

Nine men from an unnamed company were detained on Thursday in the middle of giving a demonstration to senior officers on mobile phone tracking technology, national police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri told AFP on Saturday.

He said the soldiers mistakenly believed the businessmen had not obtained the right paperwork to be carrying such technology inside the kingdom.

“There was a misunderstanding that the trackers did not have the right permission, but actually they did have it”, Prawut said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who seized power in a coup last May, apologized for the detentions.

“It was not meant to disrespect one another. Apologies have been made and I am sorry too,” he told reporters on Friday.

The Israeli embassy was not reachable for comment.

The head of the army unit that made the arrests declined to comment.

In recent years Thailand’s police force has come to be seen by the country’s powerful military as a bastion of loyalty towards ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, a former mid-ranking police officer turned businessman who is loathed by the ultra-royalist military establishment, dropped his pointmen into key policing posts after winning power in 2001.

His sister Yingluck was ousted two days before the military seized power last year.

Thaksin’s critics say he crafted a network of police fiefdoms fuelled by corruption and indebted to his billionaire family, wedding the force’s fortunes to his own.

Prayut has been busy severing that alliance, purging senior officers deemed loyal to previous administrations and appointing a chief of police who has promised to remove politics from law enforcement.

Critics say the army craves control over the police.

Prayut had little time for reporter questions asking whether the detention of the businessmen was sparked by any kind of feud between police and the army.

“Why? Do you [the media] now want police and soldiers to fight?”, he said.

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