Ex-judges, law firm file complaints in bribery scandal

Ex-judges, law firm file complaints in bribery scandal

Former judges Direk Ingkaninan (left) and Chaiyasit Trachutham prepare evidence to lodge a complaint against website Law360 and others at the Crime Suppression Division on Monday. (Photo by Wassayos Ngamkham)
Former judges Direk Ingkaninan (left) and Chaiyasit Trachutham prepare evidence to lodge a complaint against website Law360 and others at the Crime Suppression Division on Monday. (Photo by Wassayos Ngamkham)

Two former senior judges have filed complaints with crime police against a website that published reports accusing them of being involved in the Toyota bribery case.

Former Supreme Court president Direk Ingkhaninan said on Monday he would let the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) decide on how to take action but, in his view, this was a defamation case.

He insisted he had nothing to do with the case, both in the first court and appeal stages, and that he was no longer the president of the Supreme Court when the rulings came.

Former senior Appeal Court judge Chaiyasit Trachutham asked crime police to take action against Law360, Frank G. Runyeon who wrote the article, Toyota Motor Thailand (TMT), managing director of TMT and Toyota Motor Corporation in the United States.

If the investigation shows any party is not involved, he urged police to exclude them as witnesses.

He added that he welcomed an asset probe as proof of his innocence.

Former Supreme Court president Salaikate Wattanapan, another senior judge whose name appeared in one of the articles, said by phone that he had authorised the Court of Justice to take legal action.

CSD chief Pol Maj Gen Suwat Sangnoom said later that Mr Salaikate was also considering filing a complaint with the CSD.

Meanwhile, Annanon, a law firm mentioned in one of the stories, filed a complaint with Huai Khwang police on the same day.

Manging director Songphol Annanon accused Mr Runyeon of defaming the company and violating the Computer Crime Act.

He said in a statement that the firm had handled the case for TMT in the Central Tax Court. It decided to part with the client on Dec 11 last year, before the Special Appeal Court made the ruling this year.

The law firm claimed it had not been involved in the case since Dec 11 last year and insisted on its innocence, the statement said.

The CSD chief said investigators would decide whether to take up the cases since they had taken places outside Thailand’s jurisdiction.

Mr Runyeon said in the article posted on Wednesday that the three judges did not respond for comment on the issue.


Background

The case dated back to 2010-12 when TMT imported parts for its Prius model. The company declared them as auto parts eligible for hybrid car import tax privileges of up to 30% under the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership (JTEPA).

But after rechecking, officials concluded they were not random parts to complement locally made parts in assembling a car.

In their view, the items were completely knock down (CKD) parts in matching quantities that could be assembled into cars. The law treats such parts as assembled cars.

Besides, the imported engines are coded 2ZR for the Prius model, with a capacity of 1,797cc. They decided TMT would be liable for an 80% import tax on complete cars under 1,800cc.

A probe by Laem Chabang customs officials found TMT had imported Prius parts in this manner 245 times, enough to make 20,000 cars. TMT was therefore asked to pay back taxes worth 11 billion baht. 

TMT argued that it imported the parts from Japan under the JTEPA. It said that the case was a matter of interpretation and that it had already sent clarifications and explanations to the Customs Department in late 2013.

In June 2015, TMT took the case against the Customs Department and its tax valuation panel to the Central Tax Court. The company insisted it had paid taxes correctly and customs officials had not challenged it at the time. Therefore, accusing it of intentionally evading taxes and demanding that it pay back taxes later was not fair, the company claimed.

The first court ruled in favour of TMT in September 2017. The Customs Department appealed and the Special Appeal Court overturned the first court’s ruling.

TMT appealed and the Supreme Tax Court accept its appeal on March 29 this year on the ground the rulings of the two lower courts were in conflict. The court gave the Customs Department until July 13 this year to file its account before the case is sent to the Supreme Court. 

In March this year, Toyota Motor Corporation, the US-based parent company of TMT, disclosed in public filing that it had informed the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice in April 2020 that TMT might have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company said it was cooperating with US authorities to investigate the case.

Law360, a US-based website on news and analysis for law professionals, first reported the case on March 29 this year. It wrote that Toyota Motor Corp had conducted an internal investigation six months before it reported to US authorities by hiring Wilmerhale Corp to probe the case. The investigation report claimed TMT’s consultant company had paid bribes to several Thai judges and officials in a bid to overturn the ruling of the Prius case.

On April 3, the Thai Court of Justice said it had yet to find more information on the allegation and vowed to take disciplinary action against the wrongdoers.

On May 26, Law360 reported federal prosecutors set up a grand jury in Texas to seek any evidence of the bribery involving top Thai judges to overturn the tax judgment.

In the same report, Law360, citing US official and documents related to the investigation, named the judges involved, as well as the Thai law firm, and claimed TMT had already paid $18 million of the $27-million contract, with $9 million to be paid if Toyota won the appeal.

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