44 accused of fiddling student fund
The Education Ministry has accused Rojana Sinthi and 43 associates of embezzling money from a multi-million-baht fund for poor students, with one grantee also having allegedly been duped by the gang.
The list of 44 suspects was Tuesday given to the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) by inspector-general for education Atthaphol Truektrong whose probe team earlier implicated former senior education official, Ms Rojana, in the case.
Ms Rojana reportedly admitted siphoning 88 million baht from the Sema Phatthana Chiwit Fund and transferring it to 22 bank accounts owned by relatives and friends over the past decade.
She was dismissed after her confession.
The other 43 suspects are believed to be the owners of the bank accounts used to siphon the money, according to Mr Atthaphol's initial investigation which divided the suspects into four groups.
The first was Ms Rojana's cousins and close associates who often received money, Mr Atthapol said.
The other three groups were friends from her postgraduate class, students given scholarships from the fund and members of certain foundations working with the Education Ministry, he said.
According to the findings, seven account holders are believed to be state officials, including soldiers.
"Some have reported to the ministry but not yet clarified their alleged involvement," Mr Atthapool said.
His team has asked state agencies, including the Royal Thai Police Office and City Hall, to confirm whether those seven accounts belong to people they currently employ.
The money transfers in question, made between Aug, 2005 and Nov, 2017, involved 230 million baht of the fund, but the exact amount stolen has not yet been finalised, according to the investigators.
"We first estimated the loss at over 96 million baht," Mr Atthaphol said, adding as the probe goes further, he expected it to decrease.
This is because his team is currently in the process of separating bank accounts of those rightfully granted money from the fund.
One ex-grantee, who previously worked at the Office of the Permanent Secretary of Education, claimed Ms Rojana told him to open a bank account.
After opening an account, he began receiving money in 2008. However, he said, Ms Rojana later asked him to give her the account details as well as its ATM card.
He said he had no idea about transactions that occurred thereafter.
When he asked Ms Rojana about the account, she replied: "We'll talk about it later. Then, I couldn't contact her," he said.
He said he did not know whether Ms Rojana was suffering from financial trouble, but before the scandal came to light, she had phoned him to borrow money.
PACC secretary-general Kornthip Daroj said he is preparing to ask the PACC to set up an inquiry team to question all 44 suspects.
His agency will also examine the assets of those implicated in the scandal.