The Corruption Park scandal is said to be officially over. It wasn’t necessarily always so simple. At the beginning of the affair, it was caught up in claims over corruption by some close to the palace or parts of it. Even the person at the center of investigations, former Army boss and junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr, admitted that “commissions” had been paid and then “repaid.”
Their were also conflicts within the junta and the military as Udomdej was “targeted.” Importantly, though, Udomdej was strongly supported by senior junta mover and shaker General Prawit Wongsuwan, who made it clear that he wanted his loyal underling cleared.
Khaosod reports that yet another junta-commanded corruption “investigation” has found “[n]o trace of corruption or malfeasance … in the construction of a royal monument … as widely alleged in media reports, a junta-appointed committee declared…”.
Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas was precise: ““There was no violation of bureaucratic procedure” following an inspection of “more than 95 percent” of all documents available.
Well, clear about the limited parameters of the “investigation.”
Many of the allegations revolved around “commissions” paid to Watcharapong Radomsittipat or Sian U, and amulet dealer. However, that dealer had already been “cleared” by the Office of the Auditor-General of “allegations he demanded kickbacks from foundries hired to cast the statues of seven Thai kings at Rajabhakti Park…”. That was more than a month ago.
At the time, the trader “admitted he received a total of 20 million baht from the foundries, but the money was paid for his role as their adviser, coordinator, work supervisor and problem solver…”. According to Auditor-General Pisit, these were “management fees,” not “kickbacks…”.
According to the OAG, the trader “decided” – when? under what pressure? – to “return the money to the foundries because he preferred to help build the park as a volunteer.” Yeah, right…. He claimed “the foundries did not want the money back, so Sian U donated it to the Rajabhakti Park project.” Yeah, right….
Sounds more like a cover up to us.
This “investigation” of the trader was carried over into the broader “investigation” with the same story claimed by the Auditor-General.
This rather dubious “investigation” was sufficient, however, for General Prawit. The Bangkok Post reports that Prawit declared: “It has ended…”. He said Army commander Theerachai Nakawanich, who “was reported to have pushed the issue into the spotlight and wanted an investigation into the project” if it was “ended.” He replied it was ended.
The boss hopes that’s the case. The military is now going to go ahead and spend even more money on Corruption Park.
Update 1: A reader points out our failure to note that at least two senior military officers, linked to Udomdej, fled Thailand over the the murky events surrounding the Corruption Park scandal and Bike for Mom and Bike for Dad events. With the junta in place, truth on this case will be mediated by self-interest.
Update 2: It is interesting to note that the Bangkok Post has an editorial that criticizes the decision that all is “squeaky clean.” It refers to a “perilous” and “dangerous precedent.”
It states that the “CNAC, chaired by Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya, comprises all major state corruption busters including the PACC, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG). Its approval should have restored the tainted park to the glory it deserves.” Yes, we know, the last statement is the required royal ridiculousness.
The editorial continues:
Unfortunately, the coalition of public graft-busting organisations let the public down when it resorted to euphemism and round-about explanations instead of tackling the accusation squarely and straightforwardly.
In short, the the CNAC found out five foundries paid about 20 million baht to the amulet trader identified as Sian U for “recommending” the jobs of casting oversized statues of past monarchs at Rajabhakti Park to them. The amount is also considered remuneration for advice that Sian U gave to the foundries during the casting process, according to the CNAC.
For most people, a payment given to people who recommend jobs or serve as a sales facilitator is called a commission.
The CNAC, however, seemed to go out of its way to gloss over the dubious practice in its Wednesday announcement.
The coalition of graftbusters said the money was paid between private parties. It reasoned the rate was in line with market prices, and that the amulet trader had enough expertise to serve as a consultant to the foundries.
These explanations are not relevant to the central question regarding the kickbacks scandal.
… What gave the amulet trader the authority to “recommend” jobs in the state project to private businesses? Why was he allowed to make money as a go-between when the process of finding contractors to cast the park’s statues should have been carried out in an open and fair manner in compliance with state procurement practices? What connections did he enjoy with the army that allowed him to claim he could “recommend” its jobs to private business?
More importantly, the CNAC acknowledged that the Sian U was later told by the army not to keep the money so he donated it back to the Rajabhakti Park fund. If the money was a clean, aboveboard business transaction, why did the army have to tell the amulet trader to “donate” it?
Sadly, the CNAC did not appear to pay attention to any of these crucial questions as it explained away the scandal with irrelevant facts. Worse, by suggesting that it is acceptable for people to charge money by recommending jobs in state projects to private businesses, the graftbusters are opening up vast new areas for fraud and deceit.