January 2, 2009 / 8:20 AM / 11 years ago

Thai police say cause of club fire still unclear

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The cause of a fire in a Bangkok nightclub that killed 59 New Year revelers is still not clear so it is premature to file criminal charges, Thai police said on Friday.

A policeman looks at the bodies of victims outside Santika nightclub in Bangkok on January 1, 2009. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa

More than 200 people were also injured in the fire, which broke out in the early hours of Thursday in the Santika nightclub, popular with both foreigners and high-society Thais.

“We can’t charge anybody right now because things are still unclear,” Deputy National Police Chief Chongrak Chutanont told a news conference.

“The only charge we could lay against the club owner is allowing teenagers aged below 18 to enter,” he said.

Police also have to check with the Commerce Ministry to identify the real owner of the nightclub but that will not be possible until January 5, when Thai government offices and businesses reopen after the long year-end holiday.

“We need to find out in the club’s registration record who holds the biggest share, then we’ll lay charges against the right person,” said police Superintendant Suthin Suppuang.

Witnesses and local media have said the fire was caused by fireworks or by an electrical fault. Police have denied speculation it was the result of an arson attack as the club held its farewell party on New Year’s Eve due to its lease expiring.

One Singaporean man, identified as Teo Sze Siong, was among the dead, and several foreign clubbers were treated in hospital.

More than 100 people were still hospitalized on Friday. Some 32 were seriously injured, including two Americans and one Briton, an official at an emergency center said.

Dozens of bodies wrapped in white cotton sheets were moved from the club to the police headquarters, many of them charred beyond recognition.

“Sixteen dead bodies are still unclaimed and need to be identified by DNA test,” a police official said.

($1=40 Baht)

Reporting by Trisanat Kongkhunthian; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani

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