Injunction slapped on editors’ assets probe

BANGKOK (The Nation): The Administrative Court has issued an injunction on a money-laundering investigation into journalists critical of the government, pending its review of the matter. Senior journalists of Nation Multimedia Group (NMG), who had petitioned the court for the injunction, hailed the decision as a symbolic gesture by the judges and a strong message upholding press freedom. “This court’s decision surely lifts us, although the fight is far from over,” said Nation Group Editor Thepchai Yong. “It’s symbolic, and it’s a first-round triumph for freedom of expression.” In his order, Judge Visanu Varanyu said the Anti Money Laundering Office (AMLO) had overstepped its jurisdiction when ordering commercial banks to report on the journalists’ financial records. “The AMLO has invoked Article 40 of the Money Laundering Act to summon banking records, but in fact this provision does not empower it to do so,” the judge said in his ruling. The court’s injunction has in effect suspended the AMLO investigation against Nation Multimedia Group Editor in Chief Suthichai Yoon and two other NMG editors, Thepchai Yong and Sopon Onkgara. It has also overridden the AMLO order for commercial banks to hand over the three journalists’ financial records and those of the NMG to the agency. Pending the full review of the AMLO investigation, Visanu noted that AMLO secretary-general Peeraphan Prempooti had wrongly interpreted Article 40 as empowering his actions. The provision only empowers the AMLO to take action under the instruction and supervision of the Financial Transactions Committee, but Peeraphan had taken the matter into his own hands without the committee’s acknowledgement. In defending his investigation, Peeraphan earlier told the court that his office initiated the probe after an anonymous tip-off. Visanu said the law clearly stipulates that the AMLO can summon evidence from commercial banks only after receiving endorsement from the five-member committee. He said his injunction would be enforced until he could rule whether the investigation was legal and justified.

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