Phuket Gazette Thailand News: PM Yingluck faces corruption probe over rice scheme; EC urges to delay polls; Navy personnel caught armed amid protests

– Thailand news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

PM being probed in fake G2G rice deal
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: In another blow to embattled caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the anti-graft agency yesterday decided to investigate her in connection with the alleged irregularities in the government’s controversial rice pledging scheme.

The fact-finding committee of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) concluded that the caretaker prime minister should also be held responsible for wrongdoing involving the project, besides other suspects.

The panel found that she was aware of the losses caused by the project but failed to prevent it, NACC member Vicha Mahakhun said.

The panel will submit its report to the commissioners for further investigation.

Yingluck ducked questions from reporters on the decision.

The NACC also ruled there was no evidence substantiating the government-to-government rice deals claimed by Yingluck’s government and pressed charges against former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, former deputy commerce minister Phum Saraphon and 13 alleged accomplices.

The committee will also investigate Yingluck’s alleged failure to try to stop the damage done to the country by the pledging project.

Vicha said the committee would summon the 15 suspects to explain themselves within 15 days. About nine officials from the Foreign Trade Department are involved. However, the charged officials could continue in their posts until the anti-graft body finds grounds to indict them.

Vicha said there were thousands of pages of documents and hundreds of witnesses. There are also companies involved. Of these, charges will be pressed against well-known rice trader Siam Indica, as it was named as an agent in a G2G deal to ship rice overseas for the government.

Siam Indica was suspected of selling rice that the company had won through domestic bidding instead of shipping it overseas. The firm allegedly intended to evade taxes, and the committee ordered the Revenue Department to demand back taxes.

The NACC also instructed the Foreign Trade Department to cease all activities and plans to sell rice, as it leads to corruption.

Deputy Commerce Minister Yangyong Phuangrach urged the NACC to ask trading-partner countries, as well as foreign embassies, about the contracts to balance its investigation of the case, saying they are real.

Former commerce minister Boonsong said he was prepared for the investigation. He will not allow anybody to make accusations and will discuss the matter with his legal team soon.

Delay poll or risk violence: EC
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: In its strongest warning yet to the caretaker government, the Election Commission yesterday said pushing ahead with the February 2 election could spark a severe conflict, possibly leading to violent civil unrest.

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, who is one of the five election commissioners, said postponement of the election until May could help ease the ill will between proponents and opponents of the February 2 polls. He said the extended period could be spent implementing reforms or changing laws, as demanded by the protesters, who have rallied for more than 70 days.

“The government seems to opt for a war by pushing ahead with the February 2 election,” Somchai said. “If we remain stubborn, we will see hell before us.”

He warned of possible riots by people who disagree with an early election. There could also be widespread outrage if police take action against voters who break the law, such as by tearing up ballot papers.

“The EC doesn’t want to see more firewood thrown on the fire. Whatever we can do to put out the fire, we are ready to do it,” Somchai said, adding that in a tense situation like this, even a small dispute could lead to a riot or more severe forms of conflict.

The caretaker government yesterday stood firm against postponing the election. The caretaker PM and other Cabinet members also ruled out stepping down, as had been demanded by the protesters, according to a source in the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

Somchai said yesterday that the EC had been unable to reach caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, but will continue its attempts until EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen can meet with her. He had tried unsuccessfully to reach Yingluck by phone. “The call was not answered and I didn’t get any call back,” Somchai said.

He said the EC was seeking a meeting with Yingluck today at the Navy Convention Hall to discuss the election agency’s postponement proposal. He pointed to concern over possible violence in the run-up to the election. If the PM is busy today, the EC would continue sending her an invitation every day until she responds, he said.

“One side has said there are many problems [with holding a February 2 election]. The other side cannot simply go shopping. There must be a discussion. We should avoid pouting, like they do in TV dramas,” he said.

Meanwhile, the caretaker PM’s secretary-general, Suranand Vejjajiva, said the PM had not received any official invitation for a meeting from the Election Commission. Therefore, there will be no meeting with the EC today as stated by the EC to media.

Somchai said the EC wanted to meet the PM in person – and not her representative – to discuss important legal issues involving the election. He would disclose those issues during a meeting with the PM. Somchai said caretaker Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan should also attend the meeting with the EC.

He said the idea of discussing the matter with the PM was agreed by all five election commissioners.

“It’s no use the prime minister trying to avoid us. We have to help ensure peace in our country. The government should have respect for the EC chairman and they should talk with us,” Somchai said.

On Wednesday, Yingluck, after meeting representatives from 37 parties, said the majority of the participants insisted that the election go ahead as scheduled.

Meanwhile, chief coalition whip Aumnuay Khlangpha yesterday said he would sue the election commissioners if the February 2 election does not take place. Pheu Thai Party members in the South who could not register as election candidates have already filed police complaints.

Private groups present reform ideas to Yingluck
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Yesterday 28 business organisations proposed to the caretaker government that it reform the country’s politics to solve the political turmoil at this time.

This is the first time this larger group of organisations has met to make proposals directly to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. A core group of seven major business bodies has already been mulling solutions to the current impasse.

While agreeing with “reform”, the larger group had different ideas of how to get there. Some of them also proposed setting a new date for the election, which has been authorised by His Majesty the King.

“We will meet to find the road map again,” Yingluck said.

However, proposals that are not legitimate would not be included in the final road map, she said.

She ordered the Political Development Council and her Permanent Secretary’s Office to set up the

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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