- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

BANGKOK — Leaders of Thailand’s Sept. 19 military coup, facing complaints that their move destroyed the nation’s democracy, have promised to vigorously investigate corruption charges involving ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

They say their probe will explore his family’s $1.9 billion sale of a telecommunications company as well as Thailand’s purchase of U.S. bomb-detection scanners and other big-ticket items.

Critics of Mr. Thaksin are demanding that the coup leaders freeze his assets to stop cash being transferred out of this Southeast Asian nation. A billionaire who has governed for 51/2 years, Mr. Thaksin has considerable assets in Thailand, Britain and elsewhere.

The generals’ pursuit of corruption has a familiar ring for many Thais. In 1991, the military carried out a bloodless coup, citing corruption as the major reason for toppling an elected government.

Leaders of that coup froze and seized the assets of politicians and others they described as “unusually rich.” Years later, after meandering through the courts, the cases fell apart because the coup was illegal. The current self-appointed six-man junta has canceled the 1997 constitution and begun drafting a new one to legalize their coup.

The most dramatic corruption charges involve Mr. Thaksin’s family, which sold its stake in the Shin Corp. telecommunications empire to the Singaporean government’s Temasek Holdings for $1.9 billion in January, without paying capital gains tax.

Mr. Thaksin was not arrested or charged, and the junta has not requested his extradition from Britain, where he went after the generals seized power while he was in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly debate.

He defended the telecom sale by saying it was offshore in the Virgin Islands and included complicated documentation consistent with arrangements made by other wealthy Thais.

Another murky deal involved InVision Technologies, incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Newark, Calif.

General Electric Co. bought InVision Technologies in December 2004 and renamed it GE InVision Inc.

Last year, Thailand asked the United States to reveal whether any Thai officials or private middlemen had received payments when Bangkok signed a deal to buy 26 of InVision’s CTX-9000 DSi scanners for its new international airport to detect explosives in luggage.

Mr. Thaksin denied that his officials took bribes in the scanner deal.

But InVision’s transactions in 2003 and 2004 in Thailand, China and the Philippines included “criminal liability associated with potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and the company was fined $800,000, according to a Dec. 6, 2005, announcement by the U.S. Justice Department’s Fraud Section.

In February, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined InVision an additional $1.1 million for the FCPA violations.

“The [Thai] distributor indicated that it had offered to make gifts, or payments, to officials with influence over the airport corporation” in Bangkok, the SEC said Feb. 14 in an accounting and auditing enforcement document.

“Despite this awareness, InVision authorized the distributor to continue to pursue the transaction,” the SEC said. The X-ray scanner purchase was halted, but “by proceeding with the transactions, InVision made, or authorized the making of, illegal payments to foreign officials,” the SEC said, without publicly naming recipients.

Patriot Business Consultants Co. Ltd., the Thai distributor at the center of the sale, told reporters that it had no involvement in bribery. But the SEC said: “InVision improperly accounted for certain payments to its agents and distributors in its books and records, in violation of the FCPA.”

After restructuring the purchase, CTX scanners were installed at the airport.

The coup leaders have empowered a respected, no-nonsense auditor general, Jaruvan Mainthaka, to investigate the Shin Corp. sale, the CTX scanner purchase and other cases.

Mrs. Jaruvan was to be helped by a National Counter Corruption Commission, created by the junta, which has begun investigating a $620 million wastewater-treatment project.

“We would like to wrap up the long-delayed [wastewater] case as soon as possible, because it is close to expiry,” said NCCC Secretary-General Saravut Maenasavate, referring to a statute of limitations.

The case involves a reputedly inflated government budget to appropriate land zoned to build the Klong Dan wastewater-treatment project on Bangkok’s outskirts and reputedly forged real-estate documents.

Three politicians and 20 government officials were implicated, as were the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Pollution Control Department.

The coup’s leader, army chief of staff Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, also set up an eight-member investigative committee, as well as an office against money laundering.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that any move to restore democracy in this country without first thoroughly cleaning up its corruption-prone political culture will be doomed to fail,” said an editorial in the Nation newspaper.

According to Thai news organizations, the biggest government projects approved by Mr. Thaksin’s administration, which are being probed by the auditor general, include:

• The Agriculture Ministry’s U.S. $400,000 project to buy rubber seedlings, involving bidding among Thai companies for the contract, payments for the young trees and money reputedly pocketed by the companies and farmers.

• Catering 180,000 meals per month for airlines in a $270,000 project linking a Bangkok company and Xian airport in central China.

• Suspicious warehouse projects, ground services and maintenance facilities at the new international airport in the capital.

• Fairness of bids for the government’s U.S. $810,000 satellite-uplink equipment.

• Refinanced loans by the Finance Ministry.

• Underpriced land used as collateral for nonperforming loans, linked to members of Mr. Thaksin’s party.

• A $6.75 million government food laboratory, for meat and food businesses, involving the Finance Ministry and others.

More than 10,000 minor cases also await investigation.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide