Graft probe digs deep in two more provinces

Graft probe digs deep in two more provinces

Panida Yotpanya, a Mahasarakham University student, is protected by soldiers after exposing the alleged corruption at the Khon Kaen Protection for the Destitute where she interned last year. (Photo by Jakkrapan Nathanri)
Panida Yotpanya, a Mahasarakham University student, is protected by soldiers after exposing the alleged corruption at the Khon Kaen Protection for the Destitute where she interned last year. (Photo by Jakkrapan Nathanri)

Anti-graft officials are scrutinising two more welfare centres with at least eight more on the list after they have found suspected corruption in their nationwide investigations.

Meanwhile, soldiers have stepped in to protect two whistleblowers who rattle the Social Development and Human Security Ministry with an exposure of alleged irregularities at the Khon Kaen Protection Centre for the Destitute.

Lt Col Kornthip Daroj, the deputy secretary-general of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), said on Monday panels would be formed on Tuesday to probe the handling of funds at centres in Bung Kan and Nong Khai.

The centres in Saraburi, Udon Thani, Surat Thani, Ayutthaya, Nan, Krabi, Trat and Trang are next in line for the scrutiny, the official added.

At present, the operations at the centres in Khon Kaen and Chiang Mai are being examined in detail.

All are under preliminary investigations by the anti-corruption agency, which so far have suspected mismanagement in 12 out of the 20 target provinces.

The PACC is trying to determine whether senior officials of C9 level or higher are involved in the alleged irregularities so it can forward the names to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for further action.

"If officials whose ranks are higher than C8 are involved, the PACC committee will send the cases to the NACC for further investigations," Lt Col Kornthip said.

The PACC has no mandate to probe suspected corruption committed by senior officials from the C9 level onward since they are the responsibility of the NACC.

The PACC investigators have found a similar pattern of possible corruption in all centres being probed. The signatures of the poor eligible for the state funds to help the underprivileged and HIV patients were forged or they did not receive the financial aid in full, the PACC deputy chief said.

Lt Pol Kornthip said the agency limited the scope of the probes to fiscal 2017 for the time being and will check all projects in previous years later.

The alleged corruption of funds for the poor was first exposed at the centre in Khon Kaen. The same problems were later found in other offices.

It was exposed by Panida Yotpanya, a Mahasarakham University student, during her internship at the centre in Khon Kaen last year. Nattakarn Muenpol, a former employee of the centre in the same province, has also sought help from the Administrative Court after she suspected the centre had terminated her contract because she refused to falsify receipts of state funds.

Col Pitakpol Chusri of the 23rd Military Circle based in Khon Kaen said female soldiers have been sent to guard the two women around the clock, as they are the two key witnesses to root out the alleged scams.

Mrs Panida said she and her family felt secure after the military protection.

All centres being investigated by the PACC are under the supervision of the ministry.

Its top two officials -- Puttipat Lertchaowasit, permanent secretary for social development and human security, and his deputy, Narong Khongkham, were transferred on Friday by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to his office at Government House to allow investigators a free hand to look into the matter.

The two have not bee linked to the alleged corruption.

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