BANGKOK — A farmer who crowdfunded the purchase of a buffalo he had bonded with was charged Tuesday afternoon with fraud, money laundering and violating the Computer Crime Act.
After surrendering the buffalo to the police this morning, Surat Phaeoket was charged with serious crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a 200,000 baht fine, one day after the official he bought the animal from accused him of defrauding donors with misleading statements.
Surat will be brought in for questioning, Col. Singh Singhdet of Khan Na Yao police said Tuesday.
Photos of man and buffalo became an online sensation earlier this month, and netizens chipped in the money needed for him to buy the animal outright. Surat last week purchased Tongkum from Boonlert Kanpakdee, a subdistrict mayor who set a price of 100,000 baht for the 4-year-old bull.
After the deal was done, Boonlert complained to the police he was embarrassed by what happened and alleged the funds had been illegally obtained. He said Surat made misleading statements about the animal’s predicament; Surat denies doing so.
Smiling Buffalo Seized by Police, Impounded as Evidence
CHAI NAT – An impoverished farmer in the central province of Chai Nat was in tears Tuesday morning when police arrived to confiscate the beloved buffalo he’d just purchased with the help of online donors.
Surat Phaeoket had to lead Tongkum the buffalo onto a truck after the animal’s seller, a local government official, complained to police he had not wanted to sell the now-famous buffalo. Police said the farmer committed fraud by crowdfunding the money used to buy the buffalo and have frozen his accounts.
“I don’t want to cry anymore,” an upset sounding Surat said several hours later. “When leading him onto the truck, I told him that he will come back to our home to be with me together soon. I told him to wait just a few more days.”
Tongkum was taken to Bangkok’s Khan Na Yao Police Station, where he will remain until the court decides who owns him.
Around back, reporters were led past a cutout of Col. Singh Singhdet, the station chief, in cowboy gear to a corral containing a shed wrapped with mosquito netting. There, officers said they would take turns trying to bring the smile back to Tongkum’s face.
“The environment should still be good for him,” said one cop on the scene now tasked with buffalo care. “It’s still a natural environment.”
Surat said the animal’s well-being will suffer.
“I’m so worried about him. He needs to play in water all the time and roll in mud so he can be protected from mosquitoes. He also eats a lot of grass,” Surat said.
Singh said he believes Surat misled the public about the seriousness of Tongkum’s situation.
“Surat exploited people’s pity to solicit money, which is illegal,” Singh said.
Boonlert Kanpakdee, Tongkum’s former owner and a lesser local official in Chai Nat, called Surat a beggar Monday for appealing online for the 100,000 baht he used to buy Tongkum after the pair became internet famous.
Surat denies making any misleading statements in his public appeal.
“I will do my best to show my innocence. I will ask for legal help,” Surat said. He said he did not have legal representation.
Boonlert was accompanied Monday to the police station by a media-hungry attorney who said he’d donated 100 baht and had now taken it back. He and one other had come forward to reclaim their donations, Singh said.
Singh said that Boonlert did indeed name a price of 100,000 baht for Tongkum. He said that Surat posted a video clip of himself crying and asking for money lest Tongkum be killed.
Surat denies making such a clip. None could be found online. He did make appeals for support through various media channels, some of which embellished his tale including a few news accounts that the buffalo faced the slaughterhouse.
“Surat really does love buffaloes. He wanted this buffalo so much because he has a female one he wants [Tongkhum] to mate with,” Singh said. “If both sides fight it out, then he’ll stay here for a long time.”