Lawyer Sittra Biebangkerd
Lawyer Sittra Biebangkerd has come out in public again as he deals with sexual misconduct charges filed against former deputy Democratic Party leader Prinn Panitchpakdi.
An autodidact who started from humble beginnings and rose to fame in the legal industry, the 41-year-old has been dubbed a celebrity lawyer who provides legal aid to those who want greater access to justice.
Mr Sittra has a law firm on Sathon Road in the bustling shopping district. In addition to this, he is the General Secretary of the Lawyer Team Foundation for Youth and Society, a group dedicated to providing legal knowledge and teaching moral integrity to young people.
Born in Samut Sakhon, he completed his high school education at Nawamintrachinuthit Satriwitthaya Phutthamonthon School in Bangkok and earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Ramkhamhaeng University’s Faculty of Political Science.
“When I was in college, I worked – I studied hard and I read,” Mr Sittra said. “Due to my family’s financial situation at the time, I couldn’t go to college to take classes. Going to college required 200 to 300 baht a day.”
“My mother was a fishmonger in [the Mahachai seafood market] and she couldn’t give me more than 50 baht a day,” he added, recounting his past. “Therefore, I had to study and read at home instead.”
It only took him three years to graduate from college and he decided to pursue a second law degree at the university, he said. This time, however, he transferred credits from his first degree program, which allowed him to reduce the time needed for the second degree, he said.
In total, it only took him four and a half years to obtain two baccalaureates.
He obtained a license from the Bar Council of Thailand before receiving a lawyer’s certificate from the Thai Bar Association.
He began his legal profession as an intern in a law firm and handled cases involving loan contracts.
There he gained first-hand experience, handling legal disputes between creditors and debtors.
In one instance, he was asked to handle a case involving a creditor who sued a debtor over a loan. Both parties had given conflicting amounts of debt. The debtor said he only borrowed 10,000 baht, while the creditor said he owed 50,000 baht, Mr Sittra said.
“After checking, I discovered that the creditor, who was our client, had made the debtor sign a loan agreement which did not specify the amount,” Mr Sittra said. “I thought it was wrong. I felt like we were only being used as a tool, so I left the law firm and started my own.”
After setting up his law firm, he said he wanted to spend his days off on Saturdays and Sundays working for the good of society.
“I started a project to provide free legal advice to people from a local temple in Krathum Baen district of Samut Sakhon and other communities,” he said. “Another project has been introduced to provide legal knowledge to school and university students.”
Its initiatives were noticed by the then Minister of Justice, Paiboon Khumchaya, who invited the team to work with the ministry to introduce similar legal advisory projects in three southern border provinces.
Mr Sittra rose to fame as a lawyer when he represented a client involved in the disputed ownership of five winning lottery tickets with a combined value of 30 million baht.
The case, which caught the public eye at the time, was fraught with pitfalls.
In 2017, a teacher and a retired policeman from Kanchanaburi both claimed to have bought the winning prize of five lottery tickets.
Preecha Kraikruan, a teacher from Muang district, claimed to have won the top prize but the tickets were missing. He then filed a complaint with the police for the disappearance of the tickets.
Meanwhile, Pol Lt Jaroon Wimol, a retired police officer, was later found to have claimed the winning prize at the government lottery office.
Each man insisted that he was the one who bought the winning tickets.
During the case, Mr Sittra represented Pol Lt Jaroon, who won the legal battle against Mr Preecha on June 4, 2019, when the Kanchanaburi court declared him the rightful owner of the winning tickets.
Mr. Preecha appealed the decision and the case is currently being considered by the Supreme Court, Mr. Sittra said.
He admitted that the legal profession had put him at risk as he often received threats in the course of his business.
He said that didn’t discourage him, but he had to be careful when dealing with high-profile cases.
Mr. Sittra has more than 2 million followers on Facebook, which serves as a forum to air a wide range of issues.
“Topics posted on the page will receive public attention. Some people have asked for our help after being ignored [by the authorities]”, he said. “After posting, it often piques the interest of journalists and they ask me for an interview.”
It was Mr. Sittra who made Mr. Prinn’s case public. He also posted an audio clip on Facebook, in which Seksakol Atthawong, a former aide to the prime minister, spoke about the country’s lottery quota.
In the clip, Mr Seksakol can be heard telling ruling Palang Pracharath party member Jureeporn Sinthuprai that he took 15 million baht from another man and used it to fund an election campaign.
On it, Mr Seksakol said he had no idea his benefactor was tied to lottery quotas.
Mr. Seksakol and Ms. Jureeporn later admitted that the voices in the leaked audio clip were their own. Mr Seksakol said the conversation was a joke and part of it was doctored to discredit the government.
On April 18, Mr. Seksakol announced his resignation as the Prime Minister’s aide after the clip aired.
Mr Sittra admitted he has both admirers and enemies, and those who dislike him include police and fellow lawyers.
He also said many of his clients are wealthy and can afford high fees for his legal services.
“I can charge them high rates,” he said. “For people who don’t have money, I use the money I get from the rich to help them.
“I also have the foundation to help people who are short of money,” he added. “I’m ready to lend a hand.”