Money trail points to bribery in mine dispute

Money trail points to bribery in mine dispute

Fishy transactions found by graftbuster

An inquiry panel looking into kickback allegations involving an Australia-based gold mining firm and Thai state officials has found documents that might prove the company had paid bribes to the officials, according to graftbuster Supa Piyajitti.

Ms Supa, a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said the panel has obtained emails showing the financial routes of the alleged bribes with money being wired to Hong Kong and Singapore.

The anti-graft official was giving an update on the inquiry into the allegations that Kingsgate, the parent company of Akara Mining Co or Akara Resources Plc, paid bribes to Thai state officials to secure concessions and authorisations needed for gold mine explorations and operations in the provinces of Saraburi, Phetchabun, Phichit and Phitsanulok -- allegations which the company strongly denies.

The investigation into alleged corruption was launched in October 2015 when the NACC received information supplied by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

News of the alleged corruption first surfaced earlier that month after reports in the Australian media including an article in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Since then, the NACC has pursued the investigation.

It was reported in January this year that the NACC has investigated at least 13 people, including two former cabinet ministers (former industry minister Prasert Boonchaisuk and former interior minister Charupong Ruangsuwan).

In March this year, the NACC found Somkiat Phuthongchaiyarit, a former director-general of the Department of Primary Industries and Mines, and five others guilty of colluding to help Akara avoid a mandatory environmental impact assessment of a tailings pond.

Ms Supa said on Friday the sub-committee had divided the case into two probes: alleged bribe-taking by state officials and alleged malfeasance by state officials which was concluded early this year.

"The NACC is doing all it can to take legal action against people in the emails, but we have to verify the information from overseas first," she said.

The NACC's probe was brought back into the spotlight yesterday when a document circulated on social media showing the Industry Ministry had allocated more than 111 million baht to pay legal fees in its dispute with Kingsgate over environmental issues.

The legal dispute is not related to the NACC's probe.

A few years ago, the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order ordered the company to suspend operations at the mine from Jan 1, 2017, over health and environmental concerns.

The company then started arbitration under the Australia-Thailand Free Trade Agreement to recover losses it claims to have suffered as a result. The company is seeking 30 billion baht in compensation.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam defended the allocation, saying it was standard practice.

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