The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) insists Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit is not covered by the exoneration law as calls mount for his resignation.
Yongyuth: Declines to chair cabinet meet
Mr Yongyuth, who is also the interior minister, is not eligible for exoneration because he has not served the term of his punishment, NACC member Vicha Mahakhun said yesterday.
Mr Yongyuth was found guilty by the NACC of unlawfully endorsing the sale of monastic land owned by Wat Thammikaram to Alpine Real Estate Co and Alpine Golf & Sports Club Co during his stint as deputy permanent secretary for the interior.
On Sept 14, the Civil Service Committee of the Interior Ministry resolved to dismiss him from the civil service.
The order took effect retroactively from Sept 30, 2002, the start of his mandatory retirement.
However, the Civil Service Commission said later that Mr Yongyuth is eligible for exoneration while the Council of State explained the deputy premier was suspended from duty, which is a lighter punishment than dismissal.
The exoneration law provides leniency to people convicted of crimes or disciplinary violations if they have never committed the crime before. Interior permanent secretary Phranai Suwannarat argued that Mr Yongyuth can keep his political post.
Mr Yongyuth also said he was in the clear. Mr Vicha, however, asserted that for a person to benefit from the 2007 Exoneration Act, he or she must have served punishment, which, in Mr Yongyuth's case, was a suspended pension and inability to hold membership on state agencies' boards.
However, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said records confirmed Mr Yongyuth regularly picked up his pension cheques and after going into retirement had sat on the boards of state enterprises. He was also named vice-public health minister. "From these facts, we are able to say Mr Yongyuth never faced his punishment," Mr Abhisit said.
Mr Vicha said the NACC is in a position to dispute the Interior Ministry's opinion regarding Mr Yongyuth's status.
The status wrangle could be sent to the Constitution Court for a ruling.
A precedent has been set in a similar case in which the Constitution Court ruled in favour of the NACC, Mr Vicha said. After questions were raised over his status, Mr Yongyuth did not chair the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday.
He was supposed to head the meeting on behalf of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is away on an official trip to New York. Fellow deputy premier Chalerm Yubamrung filled in for him.
Meanwhile, Mongkolkit Sukkasintharanont, NACC secretary-general, petitioned the Election Commission (EC) to seek the dissolution of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, of which Mr Yongyuth is the chairman. Mr Yongyuth should not have had the power to endorse the party's election candidates, he said.
He said the EC should ask the court to decide if the dismissal order against Mr Yongyuth rendered him unqualified to be a Pheu Thai member before last year's general election.
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Writer: Manop Thip-Osod & Aekarach Sattaburuth