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Despite vindication, “Rolex General” is back in the hot seat

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PHOTO: Chiang Rai Times

Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwon, dubbed “The Rolex General” after a scandal over luxury watches, is once again in the spotlight.

Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission has been criticised for subverting the system of checks and balances of politicians and high ranking officials. Its explanation about Prawit’ “borrowed” luxury watches has drawn scrutiny and criticism.

The explanation came in a letter dated Monday and sent by the NACC to an opposition politician, 17 months after he wrote to them.

A member of the opposition Pheu Thai Party asked the NACC on January 3, 2019 to explain why it didn’t find Prawit guilty of failing to declare 22 luxury watches, which he claimed to have “borrowed from a friend” who later died. The original ruling was made on December 26, 2018.

The party member publicised the letter widely, signed by the acting NACC secretary-general, and it has been widely shared online. The letter says the NACC commissioners acknowledged that a Pattawat Suksriwong was the actual owner of the luxury watches and had lent them to Prawit. It also confirmed that Prawit had returned the watches, worth tens of millions of baht, to Pattawat after using them.

“The borrowing is a ‘loan for use’. While a loan for use is a liability, it is not the type the NAAC requires to be declared in its asset declaration form.”

“The NACC’s definition of liabilities only covers money, not loans for use, in which the assets have been returned to the lenders in their original form, with no money involved.”

“Therefore, General Prawit is not obliged to declare the borrowed watches as liabilities in his asset declaration form.”

A former finance minister posted on Facebook that the interpretation of “liabilities” by the incumbent commissioners runs against common sense. A prevailing interpretation of liabilities is anything of monetary value, not a case where real money is involved.

“For the sake of transparency,” he urged the NACC to list cases in which it had convicted or acquitted people in the past for the same reason, how it interpreted each of those cases and whether those interpretations were in line with its the letter to the Pheu Thai member.

A law professor, former MP from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party and leader of the Progressive Movement, wrote on Facebook that such an interpretation opens the door for widespread asset concealment.

“The NACC’s interpretation destroys the checks and balances of politicians and government officials and renders useless the requirement that they declare assets and liabilities,”

He says that from now on, any politician or official who wants to hide his assets can “borrow” using this “loan for use” trick. Assets such as accessories, rings, necklaces, watches and sports cars, need not be declared anymore.

“All you have to do is get a rich friend of yours to say it is their assets and then explain the properties were borrowed from him.”

In the past, politicians and officials often tried to avoid declaring assets by having other people, even their helpers, chauffeurs and close aides, listed as the owners.

“Yet the NACC tried hard to establish the real owners, deterring the practice.” The interpretation of the NACC today has given politicians and officials a new channel to hide their assets.”

“To protect the heart of the military regime, do we really need to trade it with the checks and balances we have so painstakingly built since 1997?”

Prawit was in the hot seat in 2017 after some media members spotted a US$370,000 (11.8 million baht) Richard Mille watch on his wrist in a photo taken at a ceremony for Cabinet ministers. Investigations of photos taken at other public events showed that he had worn at least 22 luxury watches worth a combined 40 million baht and expensive rings in public.

The watches and jewellery were not included in the asset declaration that Prawit filed with the NACC on in September 2014, after taking on the positions of deputy PM and Defence Minister.

Source: Chiang Rai Times |Bangkok Post

 

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