Tell all over Prasit links
The crackdown on the fraudulent businesses operated by Prasit Jeawkok this week not only exposed his investment empire that allegedly embezzled over one billion baht from his clients, but also left the military red-faced.
Mr Prasit, who projected himself as a "model citizen" who pursued a number of charities as voluntary projects through business channels, faced complaints from his clients who massively lost out in the Ponzi schemes. As chairman of the Kuen Khun Pandin ("Paying Back the Land") project, the businessman has extensive connections in many circles, particularly among men in uniform. File photos released by several media outlets featured him posing with big shots such as army chief gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on various occasions.
Mr Prasit turned himself in to police on Monday, denying all charges. He remains in custody as his bail request was denied. So far, at least four people are implicated in the scams. One of them is an army officer, Maj Amaraphon Wisetsuk, who is also an army doctor. With an investigation into the scams underway, the question arises over Mr Prasit's "special relationship with the army," and his dubious role in the army's controversial information operations (IO) programme, which the army has denied. The IO were accused of disseminating misinformation, instigating hate, and widening polarisation. The army has rejected these claims.
The question has been raised by Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the Progressive Movement group. She cited leaked powerpoint documents that suggested the role of Mr Prasit's company in the IO and also mentioned a post on social media by an unnamed programmer who alleged Mr Prasit's company, M help me, owns the app that the army uses for its IO.
During an interview with Matichon Online on May 17, Ms Pannika raised concerns that there might be some connection between Mr Prasit and the army officers in his circle -- as he often appeared at army functions -- and the possible damage to the military's reputation. It appears that the army has distanced itself from Mr Prasit and the IO controversy.
Last February, Deputy Defence Minister Chaichan Changmongkol, during a House censure debate, dismissed speculation about possible military IO links to the royally initiated Jit-arsa training programme which, he insisted, was intended to provide soldiers with proper knowledge about technological development.
"The user accounts in question are above board and transparent. There was no intention to harm anyone,'' Gen Chaichan told parliament.
Despite the army's staunch denial, Facebook in March removed 185 accounts and groups involved in an information-influencing operation it said was run by the military. Facebook explained that it took down the accounts because they were "using deceptive behaviour to influence public debate".
Facebook said it found "clear links" between the operations and Thailand's Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc) which dismissed such accusations. As pressure mounted, Prime Minister Prayut ordered a probe, but nothing substantial has come out. Another probe about the alleged role of Mr Prasit in military affairs should be launched.
Ms Pannika could not be more right about the damage to the army's reputation. Silence won't rid the problem.
With Mr Prasit and his businesses under the spotlight, the government and the army must remember they still owe the public a good explanation over the dubious operation which, if it exists, must be terminated.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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