Saturday, August 22, 2009

‘Dr Death’ surprised by call from M’sia

Thai Takes

TWO days after the death of Teoh Beng Hock, Thailand’s Dr Death received a phone call from Malaysia. The caller, Tricia Yeoh, who is Selangor Mentri Besar’s research officer, asked Central Institute of Forensic Science director-general Porntip Rojanasunan to help in the investigation of Teoh’s mysterious death on July 16.

“I felt the request was strange as I thought I was only popular in Thailand,” recalled the forensic expert dubbed Dr Death by the Thai Media.

It was only the second time a foreign country had sought the expertise of the forensic expert featured in a 2004 National Geographic documentary titled Crime Scene Bangkok.

The first was three years ago when she was asked to conduct second autopsy on bodies buried in Aceh, Indonesia.

“I was told that they (Selangor government) wanted an independent pathologist as they did not believe in the transparency of the government service … just like in Thailand,” said the flamboyant 54-year-old independent-minded examiner, in reference to the opaque Thai police and Thai forensic experts she constantly contradicted throughout her career.

Porntip agreed to the request after receiving the green light from her boss, the Ministry of Justice permanent secretary.

“I was asked about my professional fee. But I said no. I work for the Government and if there is any payment it should be government to government,” explained Porntip, who sported a multi-coloured retro-punk hairstyle and wore jeans and Dr Martens boots during the interview conducted at her office in Nonthaburi near Bangkok.

However, Porntip could not be in Shah Alam for Teoh’s inquest as she had to be in Bangkok to fight for her institute’s budget.

So she asked the Selangor government to send her the autopsy report and photographs of crime scene and the victim. And she suggested points that could be used to question the Malaysian pathologists.

She also dispatched two staff – a forensic doctor and a crime scene investigator – to attend the inquest.

“They’ve returned and from their report, I have an idea on what happened (to Teoh),” she said.

Depending on her busy schedule, Porntip said she would personally deliver her finding at the inquest early September.

The forensic expert was clueless that the case was a controversy in Malaysia.

“I agreed to help because it is my duty to help,” said the devout Buddhist.

She only found out about it when she met Kuala Lumpur-based Thai Embassy officials during the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) visit to southern Thailand early this month.

“The officials asked me about the case. And I asked ‘how do you know that I’m involved?’ And they said it was a popular case and the newspapers had reported about my involvement,” she said, adding that these officials told her it involved a conflict between opposing political parties.

Porntip is no stranger to controversy.

Her recent brush with controversy was during the inquest of the death of 72-year-old Hollywood actor David Carradine on June 3 in Bangkok.

Her critics slammed her for speaking about the cause of Carradine’s mysterious death.

“I was not involved in the investigation (as it happened in Bangkok which is outside her area of responsibility). But the Thai media wanted to get academic information on what could have happened to Carradine,” she explained.

From the information she received, Porntip concluded that it was not suicide or murder.

“I told the Thai media that it might be an accident. And they asked me how. So I had to explain auto-erotic asphyxiation to them as it is something not usual in our society,” she explained.

Porntip is familiar with auto-erotic asphyxiation as she has personally three such cases involving farangs (Thai for Westerners) in provinces close to Bangkok.

Her first involvement was three years ago. A naked farang was found dead in his bedroom. The man’s hands were tied to the pole of bed and a plastic bag covered his head.

“When I saw the body, it looked like something from my textbook on auto-erotic asphyxiation. It was an interesting case as it is not often for me to see such case in real life,” she said.

On why the Thai police have not released the result of Carradine’s investigation, the outspoken forensic expert said: “they will not announce it as their conclusion will confirm my conclusion.”

(Published in The Star on August 22, 2009)