The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is seeking to halt a canal dredging project in Saraburi after it found evidence of price collusion in the project's bidding process.
Five suspects have been arrested for allegedly intimidating and bribing other bidders for the 1.9-million-baht project to dredge a public waterway. The project was commissioned by the Provincial Public Disaster and Mitigation Office.
The suspects were named yesterday as Krit Suthas, 34, Thayakorn Nooyen, 32, Phuwanai Malainak, 30, Ronnapob Kiathaisong, 23, and Banjerd Jamnongsilp, 43.
DSI deputy chief Yannaphol Youngyuen said the men had planned to fix the auction by paying other contenders to withdraw from the race.
The Disaster Mitigation Office received proposals from bidders at the provincial hall on Friday.
A group of men, including the five suspects, was seen standing outside the hall, allegedly intimidating bidders and preventing them from submitting their proposals.
Those who managed to submit their bids were later confronted by the men, who demanded they give their phone numbers and details of their bid, Pol Col Yannaphol said.
Later on Friday, the five suspects were apprehended by police at a petrol station in Muang district as they were allegedly paying cash bribes to some of the other bidders.
Mr Krit allegedly handed over the money in return for the other bidders dropping out of the race. The other suspects allegedly assisted Mr Krit in making the payments.
The five suspects have been charged with coaxing people into not submitting or withdrawing from the submission of bid for a state project. They denied the charges.
Police also found a handgun in a car used by some of the suspects. The gun is legally registered but police were still tracking its owner.
Pol Col Yannaphol said the DSI believed more people were involved in the price collusion scheme.
The suspects are allegedly part of a gang believed to be responsible for fixing auction prices in state projects worth more than 300 million baht in other Central Plains provinces.
He said the DSI will asked the Saraburi governor to suspend the canal dredging project pending its investigation.
Although the dredging project involved a relatively small budget, the bids for many similar projects are held almost daily in many provinces. The combined damage is huge, Pol Col Yannaphol said.