GT200 back to haunt Thailand after UK forfeit order

GT200 back to haunt Thailand after UK forfeit order

In this 2010 file photo, Jessada Denduangboripant, a Chulalongkorn University science lecturer, gives a briefing on the effectiveness of the GT200 bomb detector. His verdict?
In this 2010 file photo, Jessada Denduangboripant, a Chulalongkorn University science lecturer, gives a briefing on the effectiveness of the GT200 bomb detector. His verdict? "It's as good as a wooden stick". (Bangkok file photo)

Pressure has mounted for Thai investigators to wrap up the GT200 bogus bomb detector case after a UK court this week ordered compensation be paid to affected countries from the forfeited assets of the convicted seller.

Thirteen Thai agencies ranging from the armed forces and police to customs and provincial authorities spent nearly 1.4 bllion baht on 1,358 detection devices between 2006 and 2010. The devices themselves were said to have cost about 400 million baht, with the rest of the money going to two Thai firms that acted as middlemen and have not been named.

The devices were used widely in the troubled southern border provinces. Critics say some deaths and injuries resulted when the devices failed to do their job, while false alarms led security officers to put innocent people in jail on suspicion of planting bombs.

The BBC reported on Wednesday that James McCormick, who is serving a 10-year jail term for selling the dud devices, was ordered to forfeit 7.94 million pounds (400 million baht) to his customers.

In addition to Thailand, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Niger and Georgia were among McCormick's customers, the report said.

At a Pheu Thai party meeting on Saturday, former foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the government should speed up staking a claim, according to Thai media.

"The amount is hardly enough to cover our losses but it's better than nothing. We can also sue the local broker for more," he said, adding that the case was another expensive lesson for the country.

Deputy party spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard also demanded accountability for the purchases and a conclusion on how much the country had spent on the devices.

"The NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] and the government should set up a panel to give the public more details on the purchases and the National Anti-Corruption Commission should speed up the ongoing probe into the irregularities," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said on Friday he did not know yet what the next step would be as the UK ruling had just been made. "We'll do what we can to protect our national interests," he said.

He added that the devices had not been used for some time since they were bought by previous governments.

An investigation into the effectiveness of the GT200 was conducted in 2010 following numerous false readings and losses of life. After studying the device, an academic declared it was as effective as "a wooden stick".

However, the powers-that-be at the time swore by it, saying it did not work in some cases because users were nervous.

Among the vocal defenders of the device at the time were Gen Anupong Poachinda, then the army chief and now the interior minister; then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman of the 2007 coupmakers and the incumbent Prime Minister's Office; and the well-known forensic doctor Khunying Pornthip Rojanasunand.

As recently as September 2012, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, then the army chief and now prime minister, said the army would continue to use the GT200 because it believed the device was effective.

In 2013 a UK court sentenced McCormick to 10 years in prison for selling the bogus device. A year later, businessman Gary Bolton was convicted along with Samuel Tree, while Tree's wife received a suspended sentence for assembling the device, according to the BBC.

However, investigations into possible corruption involving the purchases by the Thai government have gone nowhere.

In mid-October last year, the National Antic-Corruption Commission (NACC) said the investigation was difficult because it was "a mystery".

"Apparently, [the GT200] was not effective but in determining the guilt of a state official, we need more than just that," said commissioner Vichai Vivitasevi. "Besides, in finding evidence, we faced obstacles because the manufacturer refused to give us more information."

The Department of Special Investigation has also been looking into the GT200 since August 2013 as a "special case".

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