PACC set to look into 850 rice cases

PACC set to look into 850 rice cases

Subcommittee established for inquiry

The Public Anti-Corruption Commission has set up a subcommittee to investigate more than 850 cases relating to the disappearance of rice stocks under the Yingluck administration's rice-pledging scheme.

PACC secretary-general Prayong Priyajit said the agency had received more than 850 complaints involving alleged malfeasance by state officials responsible for overseeing the storage of pledged rice kept in warehouses.

Investigations into the alleged offences by state officials come under the jurisdiction of the PACC, Mr Prayong said.

He said that if the PACC's regional offices are assigned to look into these cases separately, investigations could take one or two years. Therefore, the PACC board has decided to set up a subpanel to handle the cases and mobilise all its investigators to work on the cases.

Investigations will begin in October and the probe should be wrapped up in the next five to six months, Mr Prayong said.

Mr Prayong previously said that there had been complaints accusing officials of the Public Warehouse Organisation and the Marketing Organisation for Farmers of malfeasance in connection with the disappearance of the pledged rice kept in warehouses.

In 2014, inspections of rice stocks turned up problems with the storage of pledged rice in several provinces, with vast amounts missing, rotten or infested with weevils.

In some cases, the sacks of rice that were supposed to be in the middle of the stockpile were also found to have been replaced by scaffolding, suggesting an attempt to cover up the disappearance of the rice.

Weng Tojirakan, a key leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, yesterday criticised Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn for "having no guts" to sign an administrative order demanding the payment of 20 billion baht in compensation from former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and five ex-ministerial officials involved in the fraudulent government-to-government rice sales.

Instead, Ms Apiradi authorised the ministry's permanent secretary Chutima Bunyapraphasara, who will retire at the end of this month, to sign an administrative order, Dr Weng said.

He questioned why the government will not wait for the Supreme Court's ruling on the rice case before seeking any compensation.

Ms Apiradi Tantraporn on Friday authorised Ms Chutima to sign an administrative order demanding the payment of 20 billion baht in compensation from Mr Boonsong and the other five others.

Doubt has been cast over whether Ms Chutima is willing to sign the order and her expected successor, Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, has also expressed doubt.

Ms Apiradi, who was authorised by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to sign the order on his behalf, said on Friday she ordered Ms Chutima to sign it, adding the premier had allowed her to do so.

Ms Chutima earlier said she had not signed the order as she was waiting for authorisation. She had until the end of this month to sign the order before she is due to be replaced by Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, director-general of the Internal Trade Department on Oct 1.

Ms Apiradi earlier said the process of seeking compensation will be completed before the case's statute of limitations expires in February.

After the order has been signed, the ministry's legal affairs unit will send it to Mr Boonsong and the five others, who have 30 days to accept or lodge an appeal with the Administrative Court.

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