Updated: Judges and Toyota II

1 06 2021

Thailand’s judiciary is rotten. It is politically biased, engages in acts of double standards, and has been shown to be inhumane in its sentencing. Underneath all of this, it is corrupt, long “protected” by is association with the monarchy.

However, a bribery case in the USA and involving Toyota is shining a light on corruption alleged to be at the very top of the judiciary. For an earlier post on this developing case, see here.

About a week ago, Law 360’s Frank G. Runyeon reported that:Law360

“U.S. authorities are ramping up their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation of Toyota, with federal prosecutors impaneling a grand jury in Texas as they seek any evidence the carmaker bribed top Thai judges to overturn a $350 million tax judgment, according to a U.S. law enforcement official and documents related to the investigation.

Ongoing investigations by both the USA’s Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission are poring over documents from Toyota, which self-reported, an internal company investigation conducted by WilmerHale, presented to American authorities by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in April 2020.

Toyota suspected senior attorneys working for Toyota Motor Thailand “funneled bribes through a private Thai law firm to Thailand Supreme Court judges in an effort to influence the decision on a still-pending appeal of the tax judgment…”.

The grand jury proceedings are secret, but more details have been released regarding the internal investigation at Toyota:

The internal Toyota investigation found that TMT contracted with Annanon Law Office to help establish a backchannel to Thailand’s highest ranking judge via a former chief judge and an advisor, law enforcement documents show. TMT paid nearly $18 million on the $27 million contract, according to the documents, with $9 million to be paid if Toyota won the appeal, which relates to import taxes on Prius car parts.

Those potentially involved in the alleged bribery are named: “… Annanon law firm, … former Supreme Court of Thailand President Direk Ingkaninan and Supreme Court senior advisor Chaiyasit Trachutham…”. They were “to persuade high court president Slaikate Wattanapan to accept Toyota’s argument and have the court rule in its favor within a year, sometime after Slaikate’s term began in October 2019…”.

Runyeon reports that:

Thai government records indicate that around the time of the alleged bribery scheme Direk was a sitting senior judge and Slaikate was president of the Supreme Court. While the duration of Chaiyasit’s alleged tenure as a high court advisor is unclear, records show he was a senior judge on the Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases until at least October 2019…. Mr. Direk assisted TMT with the Prius case in the Primary Court and has been involved again in the current possible Supreme Court appeal.

Direk, 70, was the top ranking senior judge on the Supreme Court as of May 2020, government records show, and is eligible to serve until he ages out next September. Records show Chaiyasit, 70, reached mandatory retirement age in September 2020 after various judicial posts on Thailand’s appellate and supreme courts. Slaikate, 66, stepped down as Supreme Court president in September 2020, but retained senior judge status.

… The long-serving Toyota attorneys who law enforcement documents claim allegedly organized the scheme — General Manager Wichien Hirunmahapol, his deputy Sathit Tungjitpreechatai and Pornchai Saetachantana — left TMT in the midst of Toyota’s internal corruption probe and opened a boutique law firm, according to online biographies, the firm’s website and sources familiar with that investigation.

… A court official confirmed on Monday that Direk and Slaikate remain sitting senior judges on Thailand’s Supreme Court but did not immediately confirm Chaiyasit’s employment status. He referred Law360 back to an earlier public statement.

Soon after this report was noticed in Thailand, the Bangkok Post reported that the “Thai Court of Justice has vowed to take action against wrongdoers following a report the US Department of Justice is taking the Toyota bribery probe involving three top Thai judges to a grand jury.”

As always happens in such international cases of bribery and corruption, Thai authorities sought “information.”

Usually the “information is delayed, lost, misplaced for long enough that it fades away.

Suriyan Hongwilai, spokesman of the Court of Justice, stated that “if the Court of Justice found or could verify that the bribery had taken place, it would take disciplinary action, regardless of who the wrongdoers were or what positions they held by submitting the finding to the Judicial Commission.” He added that no one should “not to jump to conclusions before the cases were concluded in both countries.”

As we know, even if convicted of a crime in the US, the judges could turn to politics and become ministers.

LaughingAnother Law 360 report follows Suriyan’s media outing, claiming he stated that “[s]ince becoming aware of the matter, the Court of Justice has been trying to follow, verify, and gather all related information and facts both in the country and abroad…”. It seems they found nothing, knew nothing for Suriyan said: “Now that there has been a news report mentioning names and positions of some individuals, the Court of Justice will proceed to verify with the related affiliated agencies.” He added: “Further action would depend on the details of the obtained information…”.

It won’t be just PPT who will find such statements laughable. After all, as another Law 360 report says, it is “[m]ore than six months before Toyota disclosed concerns to U.S. authorities about possible foreign bribery in Thailand…” and two months since it was publicly reported.

Law360 says that the “protocol for the internal [Toyota] investigation was laid out in a 22-page document dated Sept. 30, 2019.” It was that document that “appeared to show that Toyota was concerned about possible corrupt payments to current and former Thailand Supreme Court judges, as well as to the country’s top finance and justice officials.”

It is stated that:

Toyota’s internal investigation focused on whether its employees made payments to any of eight Thai law firms or 12 individuals who may have played a role in the Prius litigation as the company was challenging the tax judgment in Thai courts. In addition to understanding if and how payments were made, the probe sought to confirm the amounts and whether any such payments were hidden, made indirectly, diverted to others, or “used or intended to be used for an improper purpose, and in particular, to influence the outcome of the Prius case.”

Another key question for reviewers was whether the recipients of any such payments had any connection to, influence over, or ex parte contact with sitting Thailand Supreme Court judges who might rule on Toyota’s case. WilmerHale also asked its team to flag any evidence that Toyota Motor Corp., the global parent company, knew about any “potentially improper payments to consultants.”

The response from the named judges began with threats of defamation cases. The aim was to keep their names out of reports in Thailand, including on social media. Isra News Agency reported:

that three Thai judges mentioned in a Law360 article about the possible bribery would ask the Court of Justice … to file a computer crime complaint with police to take legal action against those who mentioned them by name or shared such news on social media.

Thai PBS reports that “[f]ormer president of Thailand’s Appeals Court, Professor Chaiyasit Trachutham, has categorically denied allegations, reported by Law360, that he was among three senior judges implicated in Toyota Motors Thailand’s (TMT) bribery scandal.” He added that:

he was directly involved in the legal dispute between TMT and the Thai Customs Department, over import taxes on Toyota Prius hybrid cars,when he was a senior judge at the Appeals Court and was responsible for handling 10 case files…. After having carefully studied the case, he said that he felt that TMT had only a slim chance of winning the case….

The Bangkok Post reports that the Court of Justice moved a little further, and “has set up a 10-member panel to follow up on the Toyota bribery scandal…”. It was set up last Friday. So what the judiciary was doing before probably amounted to a hope that the story could be kept quiet.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reported that “Salaikate Wattanaphan, former president of the Supreme Court, has [also] denied any involvement in the bribery case…”. He “insisted that since he wasn’t in a position to make any decisions on Toyota’s appeal against the Appeal Court’s ruling in the tax dispute case, it is impossible that he would be offered as much money as claimed.”

Salaikate said “he was president of the court back then but wasn’t directly involved in the decision.”He reckons “… accusations that senior judges were paid US$19 million and later US$27 million were sketchy … who would ever be silly enough to pay that much money to them while not knowing how the decision [on the appeal] would turn…”. It seems he’s semi-serious in this observation.

Meanwhile, cases against those mentioning the report and judges are moving faster than any investigation of the bribery allegations.

Update: How fast can a judge move when named in a corruption case? In the kill-the-messenger sprint, it is with Olympic record speed. The Bangkok Post reports that former Supreme Court president Direk Inkhaninan and Chaisit Trachutham, a former senior judge in the Appeal Court, have already “filed a complaint with the Crime Suppression Division against Law360, a US-based legal news website, for defamation.”


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