Prawit's hide-and-seek game drags on
Despite having submitted a written explanation two days after Christmas explaining how he came to acquire an expensive luxury watch and a diamond ring, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has now been given another two weeks to present a more detailed narrative about his other pricey timepiece acquisitions.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) extended on Friday the deadline by which he must make the report, after he allegedly failed to report some of the items in his declaration of assets.
This has fed speculation that the graft-busting agency may be deliberately resorting to delaying tactics to help the regime's No.2 man get out of a sticky spot as critics wonder whether Gen Prawit could afford to splurge so lavishly on the salary of a military man.
With reports now claiming his luxury watch collection extends to 16 dazzling timepieces worth a whopping 22 million baht (US$685,000), Gen Prawit remains in the firing line by a public fed up with tales of corrupt officials and a new trend of crusading graftbusters unafraid to dig skeletons out of closets.
Pundits have also queried why the NACC has refused to disclose the contents of Gen Prawit's Dec 27 letter apparently explaining his financial assets.
Gen Prawit was earlier reported to have told the anti-graft body that his friends lent him at least some of the watches while the diamond ring came from his mother.
The NACC said on Friday it will question four people from the private sector who are believed to be involved in his acquisition of the luxury items.
NACC deputy secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said the agency has written to Gen Prawit informing him it expects a more detailed letter within 14 days.
It has also contacted the four people in question and arranged times for them to give statements to officers, he added.
Critics immediately expressed scepticism about the agency's plans to interview the four people outside of its premises, wondering why it would wish to sanction such informality in such a high-profile case.
Mr Worawit said this was common practice in many cases.
He refused to say how many watches Gen Prawit had confessed to owning in the Dec 27 letter, merely answering "all of them".
He said the probe is expected to be wrapped up within January barring any unforeseen need to issue additional extensions.
"If a conclusion can be made by this month, it will be," he said.
Meanwhile, as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha -- a close friend and former subordinate of Gen Prawit -- finds himself newly embroiled in another potential graft scandal involving giving puppies as gifts to other politicians, the NACC said it is considering changing its rules on this subject.
Under the agency's current rule, political office-holders are barred from receiving gifts worth more than 3,000 baht (the three puppies had a market value of 6,000 baht each but Gen Prayut apparently paid a total of 25,000 baht for them).
"We have had ideas about adjusting this rule but no conclusion has been made yet," he said.
Pheu Thai lawyer Ruangkrai Leekitwattana said the NACC is running scared in keeping the contents of Gen Prawit's letter secret, possibly fearful of what the public might make of the information it contains.
Gen Prawit has come under fire after the flashy diamond ring and a luxurious watch were seen when he raised his right hand to shield his face from the sun during a group photo session for the new cabinet on Dec 4.
Since then, he has been spotted wearing a Richard Mille, a Rolex, a Patek Philippe and an Audemars Piguet, among others.
In other news, the NACC has cleared the regime of wrongdoing over an expensive, 20-million-baht chartered flight used to take him and other delegates to a meeting of Asean-US defence ministers in Hawaii in October 2016.
The flight was provided by Thai Airways International but no irregularities were found despite the long passenger list, Mr Worawit said.