Thai Airways’ entire 2004 board, two Thaksin-era ministers, named as suspects in Rolls-Royce probe

23 March 2017 12:02pm

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13 March 2017. By Phoebe Seers.

Thai Airways' entire 15-member board of directors as of Sept. 30, 2004 have been named as suspects in a probe by Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission's, or NACC, into Rolls-Royce bribery allegations. In addition, two ministers ― both of whom served in the transport ministry under the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ― have been named as suspects.

NACC Secretary General Sansern Poljeak said the watchdog only found evidence of wrongdoing in one of three timeframes identified by Rolls-Royce: April 2004 to February 2005.

From 2004-05, majority state-owned Thai Airways International, or THAI, placed orders for six Boeing 777-200ER and one Airbus A340-500/600 jetliners equipped with Rolls-Royce engines.

The UK's Serious Fraud Office, or SFO, also levied charges against Rolls-Royce that improper payments were made to Thai officials and THAI employees between 1991–92 and 1992–97.

In January, Rolls-Royce agreed to pay 497 million pounds ($615 million) plus interest to the SFO and $170 million to the US Department of Justice to settle the corruption charges.

The SFO said that Rolls-Royce paid $36 million to intermediaries in Thailand, knowing that some of these funds were to be advanced to bribe employees of state-owned THAI and agents of the Thai government.

The two ministers implicated by the NACC were former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit and his deputy Wichet Kasemthongsri, who served from 2004 to 2005.

The NACC lacked sufficient detail about who was involved before that time period, "so we will keep seeking out facts," Sansern was reported to have said in Khaosod English, a local English-language news outlet.

Thaksin was deposed in a military coup in 2006, but still remains a potent and divisive political force in Thai politics, even in exile. He or his political allies have won every national election since 2001. Thailand's current military government has sought to discredit Thaksin and his allies. Thaksin's sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was overthrown by another military coup in 2014 and now faces heavily politicized corruption charges stemming from her management of a rice subsidy scheme. Yingluck, who denies wrongdoing, faces up to a decade in jail if found guilty.

Aside from the two transport ministers, NACC named the entire 2004 board of directors as suspects, together with a further nine THAI employees with executive management or long-term planning functions.

One of the named suspects is dead, and the move to name the entire board has prompted concerns that NACC has merely provided a "shopping list" of individuals that NACC wishes to question, rather than a list of individuals the watchdog seriously expects to be able to bring charges against.

However, NACC has said that a subcommittee has been formed to investigate whether there is sufficient cause to prosecute all 26. The UK's SFO has not yet provided their Thai counterparts with the evidence they obtained during their investigation of Rolls-Royce.

The inclusion in the list of just two ministers, both from the Thaksin-era, has not appeased concerns that NACC's charges are politically motivated, allegations that have been leveled against previous NACC cases against high-ranking officials.

One of the suspected ministers has denied any role in the scandal, saying that at the time, he had not been assigned to supervise THAI, local press reported earlier today.

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