A Thai government allegation of an assassination plot against the prime minister mushroomed into a potentially bigger scandal Monday as accusations flew that the plot was a government fabrication backed up by little evidence.
Police on Monday linked an anti-government activist to an alleged assassination plot against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other junta leaders, following the seizure of a large weapons cache at the weekend.
The activist, Wuthipong Kochathamakun, is on the run after allegedly defaming the monarchy in 2014.
But a lack of detail in the government allegations prompted widespread scepticism about the assassination plot, even forcing the government to deny Monday that it had made the story up.
"If there was any staging, it was by him [Wuthipong Kochathamakun]. He'd better watch out," said Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who also serves as defence minister.
Nine people were arrested on Saturday at various locations in relation to the weapons seizure. Police said the nine worked for Wuthipong.
"We have substantial evidence that pointed to the intention to use the weapons to instigate violence and attack [junta] leaders," deputy police spokesman Krisana Pattanacharoen told reporters on Monday, without offering any details on the alleged plots.
The weapons seized included an M79 grenade launcher, 11 hand grenades, 13 rifles, nearly 6,000 bullets, and 1 litre of TNT explosives, in addition to almost 400 methamphetamine pills.
National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda on Sunday said the weapons were meant to be used at a temple complex on the outskirts of Bangkok, which was under siege for three weeks earlier this year as police searched for a fugitive cleric wanted for alleged money laundering.
The raid was called off after the cleric could not be found.
"The evidence speaks for itself," Krisana said, brushing away questions about the amount of evidence while declining to elaborate on the link between the alleged plot and the evidence.
Prawit said the junta had already asked the government of Laos to send Wuthipong and other lese-majesty suspects believed to be hiding out in Laos back to Thailand for prosecution.
Although there is no official extradition agreement between the two countries, Thailand said it hopes for its neighbour's assistance.
"Now Wuthipong is also wanted for weapon possession," Prawit said.
Wuthipong on Sunday denied the allegations against him and the nine detainees for weapon possession and plotting assassinations on a YouTube broadcast.
"I feel sorry for my fellow red-shirt members who got arrested. The charges were wrongly imposed on them. I believe they might even be tortured so [police] can get through to me," Wuthipong said.
The "red-shirt" anti-government faction is composed of millions of supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, both of whom were ousted in coups, in 2006 and 2014.
Thailand has been under military rule since the May 2014 coup.