The smoke still lies thick around Central World

The pieces are still scattered as to what happened and who bears responsibility for the fire that burned down the Central World shopping complex and the search for truth in the ashes of last year’s protest continues in Bangkok South Criminal Court. 

Shackled and imprisoned for over a year, Pinit Channarong, a 27-year-old red-shirt protestor, and Saichon Paebua, a 29-year-old UDD guard, are currently being shoved between prison cells and court rooms, awaiting an eventual judgment which, if they are found guilty, might possibly be a death sentence.

The defendants are two of the four people accused of being responsible for the May 19 arson attack on Central World last year. The two others, Padsakorn Chaisrithao and Attaporn Wannato, both 18 years old, were released on bail shortly after their arrest in May last year and are currently being tried at the Central Juvenile Court, Bangkok.

Both Mr. Pinit and Mr. Saichon have been denied bail since their arrest in May 2010. The charges were significantly increased from arson causing criminal damage to arson causing death, contrary to Section 224 of the Criminal Code, when one man was held to have died in the flames. If convicted under this section, the sentence is either lifetime imprisonment or death.

On July 12, 2011, video evidence was presented in court by the public prosecutor. The first witness called was Anond Khempetch, in charge of the CCTV at the time of the fire. However, he failed to identify the defendants since the people in the videos were disguised.

The prosecution called three more witnesses to testify on July 19, one of them being Choophan Anongjanya, assistant area manager of Central World. None of these witnesses pointed out the defendants either, and according to The Nation, Mr. Choophan said that he did not know who is behind the fire, adding that “no one really does”.

Mr. Pinit explained that he was arrested along with nine other people around the Central World parking area. However, among those people, Mr. Pinit, strangely, was the only one charged with both arson and looting while the others were accused of looting alone.

Yesterday (July 26) the assistant area manager, Mr. Choophan, appeared in court again and testified that he does remember seeing Mr. Pinit, but only in regards to being arrested for robbery, not the arson attack.

According to The Nation, the military told Mr. Choophan that the body of the man who was said to have died in the flames was subject to investigation and therefore no one working at the centre was allowed to see the body.

Another point of suspicion in this case is the complexity of the fire and how it was possible for the defendants to start it. How this can be proven without a detailed forensic investigation into the exact causes of the fire seems impossible.

Similarly, the fact that none of the witnesses so far called by the prosecution have been able to point out the defendants as setting fire to the building leaves the fundamental presumption of innocence far from rebutted beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution. However, according to The Nation, the prosecutor remains confident that he will be able to prove both defendants guilty of at least contributing indirectly to the arson.

The hearing of witnesses continues. So does also the restoration of Central World. And as Central World rises from the ashes in a massive reconstruction, the question is whether or not justice will do the same.

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