Thai police make fourth arrest in stock rumour probe

BANGKOK, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Police in Thailand arrested a fourth person on Wednesday on suspicion of spreading rumours about the health of the country’s 81-year-old king that triggered a slide in stock prices.

A 42-year-old doctor confessed to posting a message on an unidentified website after her arrest at the private Bangkok hospital where she worked, said Police Lt. General Tha-ngai Prasajaksatru, head of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau. Police are investigating whether she collaborated with others accused of spreading rumours about the king on Prachatai, a website that lists press freedom as one of its main objectives and is popular with some anti-government activists.

The unidentified woman told police she had no connection to the three others arrested, said Tha-ngai. They were charged under a controversial and wide-ranging computer crimes law. Two are former stock-market analysts.

Thai stocks .SETI plunged 7.2 percent on Oct. 14-15 as rumours circulated over the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch.

The king, regarded as semi-divine by many of the country’s 67 million people, has been in hospital since Sept. 19. The palace says he is getting better.

His health is a sensitive topic in financial markets because he is seen as the sole unifying figure in a politically polarised country with a long history of coups and upheaval.

Strict lese-majeste and national security laws make comment on royal matters risky.

“Police are questioning her and we are looking at her appointments on her laptop for more evidence,” said Tha-ngai.

The other three were charged under the 2007 Computer Offence Act covering the posting of false computerised information that causes harm to national security and the public. They face up to five years in jail and a 100,000 baht ($3,000) fine if convicted.

The Department of Special Investigation, which comes under the Justice Ministry, is also conducting an inquiry into possible stock trading irregularities, which it expects to complete in late November.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told Reuters on Nov. 7 that the king had recovered from his illness and would soon be discharged from hospital.

He has made several public appearances at the hospital to help ease public concerns, including participating in a Thai holiday ritual of setting a candlelit float on water on Nov. 2.

Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by David Fox