BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - NACC chief insists senior Thaksin administration official linked to bribery allegations, among 26 people of interest.
A former deputy transport minister in the Thaksin Shinawatra administration has denied playing a role in the bribery scandal involving Thai Airways International (THAI) and Rolls- Royce Plc of the UK as Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) this week kicks off its plan to question two former ministers and 24 others in connection with the controversial case.
Vichet Kasemthongsri, deputy transport minister of the Thaksin government in 2003, said he was surprised to be named as one of the 26 persons of interest who will be invited by the NACC for questioning in connection with the bribery scandal which took place in 2004 and 2005.
During that period, Vichet said he had not been assigned to supervise THAI, a state enterprise under the Transport Ministry, so he had not played a role in the alleged wrongdoing. At the time, Suriya Juengrung-ruangkit was transport minister under Thaksin from 2002 to 2005.
However, Sansern Poljiak, secretary-general of the NACC, insisted that Vichet would be summoned for questioning because the anti-graft agency had evidence pointing to his alleged involvement. At this stage, no details could be disclosed but the agency believed Vichet was one of the 26 persons of interest who must be questioned in connection with the scandal.
From 2004-05, THAI, under the supervision of the Transport Ministry and the carrier’s board of directors, placed orders for six Boeing 777-200ER and one Airbus A340-500/600 jetliners equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. The multibillion-baht deal was the third major order placed by THAI in connection with alleged bribes paid by Rolls-Royce to win favour for its aircraft engines. The first and second deals took place during 1991-92 and 1992-97.
Altogether, about 1.2 billion Thai Baht (1 Thai Baht equals US$0.028) in alleged bribes were paid to the Thai government and airline officials for the three major deals from 1991 to 2005, according to evidence from the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.
However, the NACC said the statute of limitations had expired for cases which took place from 1991 to 1997 so it could not pursue criminal actions against alleged wrongdoers.
Regarding the 2004-05 case, Sansern said that even though Vichet was not responsible for supervising THAI during the period, there was evidence he was involved in the airline’s procurement process.
A NACC subcommittee said it would this week lay out its plan to invite two former ministers, a former THAI chairman, a former THAI president, and former THAI directors and senior executives for questioning.
Staporn Lao-thong, one of three NACC commissioners responsible for the controversial case, said the commissioners and the agency’s secretary-general would hold their first meeting to work out details of the plan after the agency formally announced its decision to pursue the case last week.
The other two commissioners responsible for investigating the case are Supa Piyachitti and Surasak Kirivichien.
Staporn said THAI had sent documents on the case to the NACC while the agency would also work with witnesses to substantiate criminal charges against the alleged receivers of bribes.
All 26 persons of interests would be invited to clarify their position before the NACC subcommittee.
Staporn said the public appeared to have high expectations about the outcome of this case but the NACC had to process the case based on documents and witnesses. He added that the agency would complete its investigation as soon as possible.