DSI: Grounds to charge GT200 distributors

DSI: Grounds to charge GT200 distributors

(Bangkok Post file photo)
(Bangkok Post file photo)

The Department of Special Investigation has alleged that distributors deceived government agencies into buying GT200 bomb detectors but made no mention whether any government officials were involved as it concluded the investigation into the decade-old scandal on Friday.

It said it would send the remaining 13 of all 16 cases to the Criminal Court shortly.

The DSI held a briefing on Friday after the Don Muang court sentenced an executive of AVIA Satcom Co Ltd, a distributor of the bomb detectors, to nine years in jail and fined him 18,000 baht in one of the cases on Wednesday.

According to the DSI, the damaged parties in the 16 cases are all government agencies that bought the bogus equipment between 2004 and 2009. They are the Central Institute of Forensic Science, Royal Thai Army Ordnance Department, Customs Department, Provincial Administration Department, Royal Thai Aide-de-Camp Department, Provincial Police of Sing Buri and Chai Nat, Songkhla Provincial Administration, Royal Thai Navy Security Centre and authorities in five provinces: Phitsanulok, Phetchaburi, Phuket Yala, Sukhothai.

The DSI found evidence of fraud and deception by the sellers in the cases, three of which have ben ruled on by the courts already.

In the first case, brought on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy Security Centre, the court dismissed the case and an appeal was filed.

In the second case, the Royal Thai Army Ordnance Department was the damaged party. The court sentenced the defendant to 36 years for 12 counts of fraud and imposed a fine of 72,000 baht. However, the Penal Code limits the penalty for multiple counts of the same offence to 10 years.

In the third case, the Royal Thai Aide-de-Camp Department was the damaged party and AVIA Satcom Co the offender.

AVIA Satcom claimed it simply imported the devices to the specifications provided by the agencies. It said it could not have brought the bomb detectors for sale without orders because the devices were classified as armaments, the import, sale and storage of which are prohibited by law.

As such, the buying agencies took delivery of the devices as soon as they reached Thailand because the company could not store the devices, much less test their effectiveness, it argued.

According to Isra News Agency, at least 10 agencies bought 848 devices from three companies -- Global Technical Ltd (54.2 million baht), AVIA Satcom Co Ltd (711.5 million) and Deepentech Co Ltd (1.2 million) -- at various prices depending on the data cards, which claimed to determine the types of materials to be detected. They paid 767 million baht in total, or between 900,000 and 1.1 million baht each, for worthless equipment between 2004 and 2009.

The Science and Technology Ministry had found in 2010 that the devices had a successful detection rate of only 20%. Nevertheless, then-army commander Gen Anupong Paochinda -- the interior minister in the current government -- denied any corruption and lauded the device's various “successes”.

Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon defended the military's handling of the affair on Thursday, telling reporters the devices had been tested and found to be working at the time of purchase, so there had been no wrongdoing by the military.

Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said the authorities had stopped using the GT200 devices “ever since foreign governments proved that they are ineffective'' and that various military departments are gradually suing companies that sold them.

The GT200 was one of several similar fraudulent devices sold by a loosely connected group of shady, mostly British, operators. After Britain banned the export of one of the similar devices in 2010, the scheme started to unravel as independent tests proved the devices were ineffective.

The UK banned the export of the GT200 devices in 2010 when it accused maker Global Technical Ltd of fraud. British authorities that year raided the offices of Global Technical and two other makers of similar fraudulent bomb detectors. Global Technical's head, Gary Bolton, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 and ordered to pay over $1.6 million.

Some officials still defend the GT200.

Surasak Kirivichien, a member of the anti-corruption commission investigating officials involved with the procurement of the GT200, recently said it is difficult to assess the value of the device, comparing it to the amulets many Buddhist Thais wear as lucky charms.

“This equipment was purchased for soldiers to be used as defensive weapons in a high-risk environment,'' he said in an interview last month with Thailand's PPTV. “People working in such areas are risking their lives. The equipment, even though it may not be efficient, has a high morale value. It's better than having nothing at all, that's what people at the operational level feel.''

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