BANGKOK, Nov 2 – Thai authorities have charged two people with spreading false information about the health of the country’s revered king, after rumours last month sent the stock market plunging, police said Monday.
Katha Pajariyapong and Theeranan Vipuchanin, both with finance industry backgrounds, were arrested and taken to a Bangkok police station on Sunday before being released on bail, said police.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais and as a stabilising force in a politically turbulent nation, has been in hospital since mid-September with a lung infection and fever.
Katha, who works at KT ZMICO Securities and Theeranan, 43, a former executive at UBS Securities, were charged under a computer law, accused of damaging national security by posting false information on the Internet.
"The two were arrested on arrest warrants issued by the criminal court on charges of violating the computer act," said Police Lieutenant General Thangai Prasjaksattru, chief of the central investigation bureau.
They were released on bail after questioning and if convicted could face up to five years in jail or a 100,000 baht (2,985 US dollars) fine, Thangai added.
He said the pair had admitted to putting information on the Internet, some of which was taken from a report by financial news agency Bloomberg News.
"They confessed to posting on the net and some was translated from Bloomberg," Thangai told AFP, saying however that the company itself was not under investigation.
No one at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York immediately replied to requests for comment.
Theeranan told reporters late Sunday, in comments broadcast on Thai television after her arrest at a Bangkok airport, that she felt she was justified in making the posting.
"I translated a news article because people should know why the stocks fell," she said. "I posted the news after the stocks had already fallen," she added, denying that she had been paid to do so.
The Thai bourse plunged 8.22 percent at one point on October 15 over rumours about the health of the king, the world’s longest reigning monarch, prompting the government to launch an investigation.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Thursday that Thai authorities were to charge four people but gave few details at the time.
He told reporters Monday morning that it was not yet clear whether the arrested pair had benefited from their alleged actions, but he did not think there was any political motivation.
"Police will further investigate why they did it and whether anyone else was involved," he added.
Thangai, the police investigation chief, said that more arrests were expected.
The king has only made one public appearance, late last month, since his admission to Bangkok’s Siriraj hospital. His youngest daughter Princess Chulabhorn said Friday that he was expected to be discharged soon.
The Thai royal family is protected by strict anti-defamation laws that carry stiff jail terms.