Justice imperilled by oversight void
Still remember the talk-of-the-town hit-and-run case almost eight years ago involving Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya who rammed his expensive car into a traffic police officer, killing him at the scene on Sukhumvit Road on the night of Sept 3, 2012?
Boss is still safe and sound and lives a good life abroad beyond the reach of the law in Thailand. You don't have to be worried about him because, in the next couple of years, he will be a free man and can return home because the statute of limitations of the remaining last charge against him -- reckless driving -- will expire.
After almost eight years, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) recently completed its investigation into the conduct of the police officers of the Metropolitan Police Bureau's Division 5 involved in the handling of this hit-and-run case. All were found to have committed not-serious disciplinary violations for their alleged abuses in helping Boss to escape the reach of the law. These include the deliberate dropping of the drink driving and speeding charges and not issuing a warrant for his arrest.
The track record of the NACC, an independent organisation mandated by the constitution, in recent years has not been any better than the other law enforcement organisations such as the Royal Thai Police and the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG).
The belated verdict of not-serious disciplinary violations against the police officers handling the Red Bull scion is so lenient that it begs big questions about the standards of practice and discretion used by the graft-busting agency in considering this high-profile case.
This came hot on the heels of the agency's shameful ruling that the expensive wristwatches loaned to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon by a former classmate who is now dead are regarded as "loan in use" and, hence, not legally required to be declared among the general's assets.
But the NACC is not the only independent organisation whose credibility and integrity is being questioned for its controversial rulings which appear to favour the powers that be. The Constitutional Court's ruling last year, resulting in the dissolution of the Future Forward Party and the banishment from politics of the party's executive board on the grounds that money lent to the party by its then leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was illegally earned, raised questions about the definition of illegal or dirty money. Critics have argued that illegally earned money should mean money earned from illegal activities such as prostitution, money laundering or illegal gambling.
Although not a charter-mandated independent organisation, the Office of the Attorney-General also enjoys a semi-autonomous status whereby the use of discretion by its prosecutors in judging whether an alleged offender should be indicted, or whether a case should be appealed to a higher court, is not subject to any checks and balances.
Here are a few examples of the OAG's use of discretion which are questionable. The decision not to appeal to the higher court the acquittal verdict of the Criminal Court for Corruption Cases concerning Pantongtae Shinawatra, only son of former prime minister Thaksin, on money laundering charges involving 10 million baht of the loan extended by the state-run Krung Thai Bank to the Krisdamahanakorn group of real estate companies is one such case.
Although the court ordered the acquittal of Mr Panthongtae, a minority sitting judge found him guilty and imposed a four-year jail term.
It is normal practice in most cases for prosecutors to appeal to the higher court, especially for corruption cases which are tried in two courts only, instead of three courts for other cases.
Because the acquittal verdict was not unanimous, it would have been sensible for the prosecutors to appeal to the higher court. But the prosecutors in charge of the case didn't and their decision was endorsed by the deputy attorney-general. No explanation was given to the public by the OAG because, in the realm of public prosecutors, their discretion is beyond scrutiny.
The root of the problem is the lack of a checks and balances mechanism enshrined in the previous two constitutions -- the People's Constitution of 1997 and the 2007 Constitution. This mechanism was intentionally taken out from the existing charter by its framers who robbed us, the people, of the right to scrutinise the conduct of independent agencies such as the Constitutional Court, the NACC and the Election Commission, to name but a few.
Under the 1997 Constitution, 20,000 people could sign a petition to ask the Senate to probe questionable conduct of independent agencies. Or the Senate could initiate such a move itself. To return the right of the people to rein in independent agencies and prevent abuses, it is necessary that the charter be amended.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.