Doubts over anti-corruption commision's probe of Thai deputy PM's watch scandal
BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Anti-graft body’s neutrality questioned as public demands answers.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has given Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan 30 days to explain how he obtained a flamboyant Richard Mille wristwatch and diamond ring after the luxury items raised public suspicion about the general’s affluence.
The agency would consider taking further action after hearing Prawit’s account, said Worawit Sukboon, the agency’s acting secretary-general, who added it should not take long to resolve the issue given its “simplicity”.
Prawit could either clarify the issue in person or submit a written statement to the NACC, he said.
While Prawit has said he owned the watch for a long time, Worawit refused to confirm whether that meant he had concealed assets as the items were not listed on the assets and liability report he submitted to the NACC when he entered office.
The multi-million-baht watch and diamond ring raised eyebrows after they were noticed when Prawit raised his hand to shade his face from sunlight before a group picture at the first meeting of the reshuffled Cabinet on Monday.
When he became deputy prime minister and defence minister in 2014, Prawit reported Bt87 million worth of assets, including bank savings, land, property and a car. A section on the form for assets worth more than Bt200,000 slot was left blank.
Under criticism for the scandal, Prawit yesterday skipped a meeting at the government house where reporters were expecting his presence.
Although the NACC by law has to consider the issue, members of the public and regime critics doubted whether the agency would really investigate the issue or simply help the general avoid assuming any guilt.
Not only is Prawit a key member in the current ruling regime, but he also has a connection with the head of the NACC, Pol General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, who worked for him after the 2014 coup.
Prior to assuming leadership of the anti-corruption body, Watcharapol was a deputy secretary-general to the prime minister attached to Prawit.
Watcharapol said yesterday he was not bothered at having to take up a case involving his former boss. The NACC’s job entailed questioning Prawit, he said, but it was not clear whether he would join deliberations in the case if the NACC seriously investigates the issue.
However, he said commissioners that had a stake in the case would be excluded from deliberations.
For the time being, Watcharapol reiterated that the agency was inquiring how Prawit had acquired the assets in question and whether he had documentation proving how they were acquired.
The NACC would compare the assets to the list submitted earlier, he said, but added that the current law only required political office holders to report their assets and liabilities twice, when they assumed and left office, not during their tenure.
Given the unusual circumstances in Prawit’s case, the NACC had to ask him for clarification, he said.
The anti-graft body needed to prove itself to be politically neutral enough to carry out the investigation, said Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT).
Prawit’s case indicates the public’s enthusiasm in scrutinising political office holders, he said. “It’s good to see how just one photo of Prawit shading his eyes can trigger this much interest,” Mana said in a seminar held by the ACT yesterday.
“We may look at the ongoing NACC draft bill, for instance,” he said, referring to the bill to be deliberated by junta-appointed bodies.
“If it is written to eventually benefit the serving NACC members, extending their terms for instance, it must be watched closely,” he said.
An investigation of Prawit’s tax records matching them against his assets was necessary, he said, adding that the standard should be applied to all political office holders.