Letting 'Oak' off needs explaining

Letting 'Oak' off needs explaining

Panthongtae "Oak" Shinawatra, the only son of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin, should count himself as one of the lucky few in this country to be granted special treatment from the Office of the Attorney-General.

I am referring to the court case back in 2004 in which Mr Panthongtae was charged with conspiring to commit the offence of laundering over 10 million baht which was deposited in his Bangkok Bank's account by Wichai Krisdathanon, then a top executive of Krisdamahanakorn real estate group of companies.

Mr Wichai and about a dozen other executives of Krisdamahanakorn Group and the state-run Krung Thai Bank, including Viroj Nualkhair and former bank chairman Suchai Jaovisidha, were found guilty of malfeasance in office by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders in connection with a sweet-deal loan, amounting to 10,400 million baht, extended by the bank to the real estate group when Thaksin was then the prime minister of Thailand.

They were given heavy jail terms from 12-18 years although some were later granted a royal pardon and freed after about three years in jail, with the rest of the prison terms suspended.

Mr Panthongtae was acquitted by the Criminal Court's Corruption and Misconduct Cases on Nov 25 last year of the money laundering charge because the court didn't believe that he knew the 10 million baht he received from Mr Wichai was illegally acquired.

A key part of the court's verdict reads, in essence: "The money trail was transparent with no cover-up that the Bank of Thailand could check at any time; hence, the court did not believe that Mr Panthongtae knew the money was illegally acquired. Therefore, it could not be concluded the defendant [Mr Panthongtae] conspired with Mr Wichai to commit money laundering."

After the court's acquittal, the public prosecutors in charge of the case decided not to appeal to the higher court and submitted the case along with their opinion not to pursue it to the OAG's Office of Higher Court Cases for consideration.

The reason for not appealing the acquittal is unclear. This is quite untypical for public prosecutors because it was just the first verdict and there is another higher court to deliberate the case, which could have ruled differently.

Another interesting point is the acquittal was not unanimous. One court judge ruled Mr Panthongtae not guilty as charged while the other found him guilty and handed down a four-year jail term.

However, there is a special rule governing the proceedings of the Criminal Court's corruption and misconduct cases.

In cases of a split decision by the two sitting judges, the opinion or decision of the judge which is less harmful to the defendant should apply. Hence, the acquittal was handed down.

The Office of Higher Court Cases concurred with the recommendation of the public prosecutors that the case should not be appealed to the higher court. But the Department of Special Investigation which handled the case insisted on appealing.

So, the attorney-general himself had to make the final decision. Coincidentally though, the attorney-general, Wongsakul Kittipromwong, was on an upcountry inspection trip, so one of his deputies, Nate Narksuk, decided on his behalf not to appeal against the verdict, drawing the curtain on this high-profile case and, in the meantime, raising many eyebrows and unanswered questions.

Why just stop dead half way and lose the spirit to fight on to seek justice from the higher court?

Apparently, the OAG, particularly the prosecutors in charge of the case, felt that the case was a hot potato. They have asked the court for postponements of their decision whether to appeal the verdict six times and all their pleas were granted by the court until the deputy attorney-general drew a line under the case.

As a matter of fact, the OAG deputy spokesman, Prayuth Petkhun, who was assigned to clarify the reason why the OAG did not want to pursue the case in the higher court did not shed any light on the decision at all. All he would say was the case now is final and closed.

The OAG, like the court, cherishes and enjoys a power of discretion that is beyond the checks and balances that other organisations must abide by.

It may believe that, sooner or later, the case will be forgotten, particularly at the moment when most people are pre-occupied with how to protect themselves from getting infected with coronavirus and how to make a living for those who have lost their jobs.

The OAG should have the grace to give the people a reason for its questionable decision in order to clear the air. Or it can just say outright that "it is our exclusive discretion", so we can just go back to minding our own business.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.


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