A committee investigating corruption in the rice pledging scheme says it has found 25 cases of fraud, with damages estimated at around 307 million baht.
Pol Lt Gen Worapong Chiewpreecha, an adviser to the Royal Thai Police Office, made the announcement after a committee meeting Monday chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.
Pol Lt Gen Worapong said most of the cases involved millers cheating rice farmers. Rice millers cheated growers into pledging their crop without providing the farmers with vouchers, called bai pratuan, that are needed to receive payment.
The registered vouchers are supposed to be issued to farmers, who can exchange the bai pratuan for cash at the state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC).
The rice millers under investigation are in Buri Ram and Phetchabun, Pol Lt Gen Worapong said.
Some millers pledged their own paddy under farmers' names, he added. Many poor farmers willingly surrendered their rights to sell their crop to the millers because they were desperate for cash, diverting the benefits intended for farmers to millers taking advantage of the system.
Pol Lt Gen Worapong said the committee has found 760 farmers who have been cheated by 53 individuals suspected of fraud _ including officials from the Public Warehouse Organisation and some level 5-6 state officials.
He also said about 200 tonnes of rice smuggled into Sa Kaeo from a neighbouring country has been confiscated. Authorities suspect the owners of the rice intended to sell it under the pledging scheme as domestically produced paddy. A probe has started.
Boonthai Kaewkhantee, deputy manager of the BAAC, said the bank will ask the cabinet today to increase the pledging amounts for the second crop of rice this season, from 13.31 million tonnes to at least 14 million tonnes. The cost for the pledging would increase from 193 billion baht to at least 214 billion baht.
Last year's flooding damaged the main crop and farmers had to cultivate the second crop to make up for the losses to enter the pledging scheme, Mr Boonthai said.
Pranee Siriphand, director general of the Foreign Trade Department, said the department will this week transfer about 30 billion baht to the BAAC, funds earned by selling rice from government stockpiles. The money can be used to finance the rice pledging programme, she said.
Last month, the department transferred about 11 billion baht to the BAAC, and it will continue make transfers until the bank receives 85 billion baht by the end of this year, she added.
A Commerce Ministry source said the ministry has now exported more than 1 million tonnes of pledged rice in government-to-government (G-to-G) deals.
Meanwhile, senator Paiboon Nititawan of the so-called Group of 40 Senators, who are highly critical of the government, said 81 senators had signed a petition in parliament demanding the government provide testimony about the rice pledging scheme.
Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanich said he would discuss the date for questioning in parliament with the senate secretariat and the government and the debate should take place this month.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom has said the ministry had orders for 7.3 million tonnes of milled rice from China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ivory Coast, under the G-to-G agreements. Critics question whether the agreements have been signed.
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