PHUKET CITY: Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura is prepared to pay 2.05 million baht out of his own pocket should he be found ultimately responsible for the tsunami aid money that was reported missing from Phuket Provincial Hall on February 15.
“Under administrative law, there is no way that government funds can just disappear,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “But don’t worry; if the legal process determines that the Governor must be held personally accountable, then I will accept the responsibility. I won’t have any problems paying back this amount of money,”
Few think the Governor was involved in the theft. An investigation led by then-Vice-Governor Supachai Yuwaboon, who, on March 11, concluded that the money had been “lost” through “poor accounting” by workers at the Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
In stark contrast to V/Gov Supachai’s conclusion, a police investigation revealed that a person had gained entry to a restricted room at Phuket Provincial Hall, cut a lock off the metal strongbox containing the money, pried back the cover and removed 2.05 million baht of the 2.4 million baht it contained.
There were no signs of forced entry to the restricted room, police said.
Phuket City Police on April 22 arrested Apichart Nooprod, Chief of the Finance Division of the Phuket Provincial Financial Office, for the theft.
The case was then transferred to Regional State Attorney’s Office in Surat Thani Province following K. Apichart’s claim that he could not be given a fair trial in Phuket.
However, the State Attorney’s Office ordered Phuket City Police to resume collecting evidence, but it was not until last month – some nine months after the theft took place – that police actually received the order, which was apparently lost between Surat Thani and Phuket.
By then, the annual police reshuffle had taken place and the officer responsible for the investigation, Phuket City Police Superintendent Pol Col Paween Pongsirin, had been promoted and replaced.
Still working in his old job, however, is suspect Apichart, who was released on bail immediately after his arrest.
Under Thai law, individuals accused of theft of government property must post bail of up to 50,000 baht, but Apichart, being Chief of the Finance Division, automatically received “credit” of up to 200,000 baht by dint of his rank as a government employee.
Apichart, who has yet to be formally charged by the courts, has consistently maintained his innocence.
The investigation continues.
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