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THE 34-year-old Chai Nat farmer Surat Paewkate – who made headlines for his unusual friendship with a five-year-old buffalo called Thong Kham – was separated from his four-legged best friend yesterday when police took the animal away over allegations that Surat had used this “friendship” to get money from others. Surat had been hired to take care of the buffalo.
According to Bangkok’s Khanna Yao Police Station superintendent Pol Colonel Singh Singhadech, Surat is set to face four charges: public fraud (punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and/or a maximum of Bt100,000 in fine); violation of the Computer Crimes Act by posting false information that can be accessed by the public (punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and/or a maximum of Bt100,000 in fine); violation of the Fundraising Control Act (punishable by a maximum of one month in jail and/or a Bt200 fine); and violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (punishable by a jail term ranging from one to 10 years and/or a fine ranging from Bt20,000 to Bt200,000).
Singh said police, having seized the animal and cash as evidence, will ask the Anti-Money Laundering Office to help check Surat’s transactions as part of the investigation.
Noen Kham district resident Surat – whose selfies with the “smiley” buffalo Thong Kham went viral on Facebook and made them both famous – is in trouble because he sought donations to raise Bt100,000 so he could buy his four-legged friend. In two days, he was able to raise Bt135,969 in a crowd-funding campaign to “save” his buddy.
Thong Kham is one of three buffaloes that Surat was hired to temporarily take care of since early this month.
However, after Surat handed Bt100,000 to the buffalo owner’s representative, things did not end happily as expected.
The buffalo’s 64-year-old owner, Tambon Suk Duan Ha municipality mayor Boonlert Kadpakdee, and famed lawyer Songkran Achariyasap, showed up at the Khanna Yao Police Station and filed a complaint accusing Surat of committing two offences – public fraud and violating the Computer Crimes Act.
Boonlert also said his plan was to sell Thong Kham to a buffalo conservation centre, not to the slaughterhouse as Surat claimed.
However, Surat tearfully denied any wrongdoing and insisted that his intention was to look after the buffalo the best he could and create smiles for people.
He said he has not done anything with the remaining money, and had even asked his new-found Facebook friends for ideas.
Yesterday morning, Surat saw Thong Khom taken away to the Bangkok precinct in another farmer’s pick-up truck, and said he hoped his “friend” would eventually be returned to him. He also claimed that Boonlert has forgiven him and wants Thong Kham to be left under his care.
He said he needed some time before he could explain his sincere intentions and the claim of Boonlert forgiving him to police. If all goes well, he said, he will even spend some time as a monk.
A source at the Attorney-General’s Legal Aid branch office in Chai Nat said Surat will seek legal advice today.