Crackdown case risks NACC's credibility
The move by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to withdraw a case against former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, and three other senior figures who are charged with malfeasance in connection with the bloody crackdown on yellow-shirt protesters in 2008 will put the agency's credibility at risk.
NACC chairman Watcharapol Prasarnratchakij set up a panel to study the legal possibility of the move which stemmed from complaints by defendants who were charged with Section 157 of the Criminal Code for malfeasance and dereliction of duty and related clauses in the NACC Act and the 2007 charter.
The defendants complained that the charges against them were not fair.
This is a long-standing case for the anti-graft agency. The NACC under then chief, Panthep Klanarongran, made tremendous efforts to push the case to reach the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political-Office Holders.
In doing do, the agency engaged in legal arm-wrestling with the Office of the Attorney-General which initially refused to indict the four defendants. The anti-graft agency then ignored the OAG and used its legal rights to represent itself in court.
However, the Watcharapol-led commission agreed in a 6:1 vote that a study into the case against the four should be possible. Other defendants include former deputy prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwon, who is the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, and Pol Lt Gen Suchart Muenkaew, former metropolitan police chief.
The crackdown took place after yellow-shirt protesters tried to prevent then-prime minister Somchai from delivering his policy statement at parliament on Oct 7, 2008. The operation resulted in two deaths and more than a hundred injuries.
Mr Watcharapol maintained that the panel will carefully study the legality of the move.
"If it's not in line with the law, we cannot do it. We have to take full responsibility for what we do," said the NACC chief.
The panel is expected to make a decision at the end of this month. If it agrees to go ahead, it will be the first case to be pulled while being deliberated in the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political-Office Holders.
The NACC's U-turn, based on defendants' complaints, raises a big question, legally and politically.
Ex-NACC commissioner, Wicha Mahakhun, who handled the case before his term ended, said he believed that it is not legally possible for the agency to drop a case that reaches the Supreme Court, citing Section 86 of the NACC Act BE 2542.
More importantly, Mr Wicha said the move was unprecedented in his nine years of experience as a commissioner.
The cases that were let off the hook were those meeting the statutes of limitations in the lower courts, he added.
At the same time, observers believe that it's all about politics forcing the anti-graft agency into making such a move which has aroused public suspicion.
In particular, it's believed to have something to do with the blood ties between Pol Gen Patcharawat and Gen Prawit.
Moreover, it's a known fact that Pol Watcharapol, before being named as NACC chief, was an aide to Gen Prawit.
The move to withdraw the case from the court process is highly sensitive. And even though the final say is with the court as to whether the case will be dropped, the controversial NACC move sets a precedent. If this is happens, those who are faced with corruption charges may use the case as an example, causing a delay in or blocking the court procedure.
The NACC, which faced a credibility crisis when it raised the salaries of its own members a few years ago, should realise that a decision in this case is crucial for its future. An erosion or loss of public faith will shake the agency's status.