BANGKOK (AP) – A Thai army general was one of the most prominent figures found guilty Wednesday in a major human trafficking trial that included more than 103 defendants accused of involvement in a modern-day slavery trade.
Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen was convicted of several offenses involving trafficking and taking bribes.
At least one other defendant considered a kingpin in the illegal trade, Pajjuban Aungkachotephan, was also found guilty. He was a prominent businessman and former politician in the southern province of Satun.
The defendants were arrested in 2015 after 36 bodies were discovered in shallow graves in southern Thailand. According to investigators, smugglers held Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar for ransom in jungle camps until relatives could pay for their release.
By late afternoon Wednesday, about 50 verdicts have been handed down. The process can take hours before all details are announced.
The defendants were charged with human trafficking and had pleaded not guilty.
The case drew special attention when its lead police investigator, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, fled to Australia and said he feared for his life after his findings implicated “influential people” in Thailand who wanted to silence him.
Thailand’s military government has said it is making the fight against human trafficking a national priority.
In a separate case also in 2015, labor abuses in the Thai seafood industry gained in prominence around the globe after a two-year investigation by The Associated Press led to the freeing of more than 2,000 slaves and the arrest of more than a dozen alleged traffickers. Several have been convicted.