Army chief dismisses corruption doubts

Army chief dismisses corruption doubts

Leicester City owner Vichai Sirivaddhanaprabha arrives by helicopter at the training ground on May 3, 2016. (Reuters photo)
Leicester City owner Vichai Sirivaddhanaprabha arrives by helicopter at the training ground on May 3, 2016. (Reuters photo)

The army chief has dismissed a hint at corruption involving the purchases of Italian-made helicopters.

At least two activists are looking for answers why the army paid more for the choppers of the same make and similar model used by late duty-free tycoon Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

The move came after an AgustaWestland AW169 owned by Vichai crashed shortly after taking off near King Power stadium in Leicester, killing him and four others, on Saturday.   

According to news reports, the AW169 was built in 2016 by Italian company Leonardo SpA -- formerly Finmeccanica. It cost £6.6 million (280 million baht).

Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of Thailand Constitution Protection Organization, said he would ask the Auditor-General's Office to look into the army’s purchases of at least 12 AW139 and AW149 choppers from AgustaWestland SpA. They allegedly cost much more per unit than the more recent model used by Vichai, or 675 million baht compared to 280 million baht of the AW169 model.

Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of People’s Anti-Corruption Network, also wrote on Facebook about the price differences. “Despite the high prices, almost half of the 12 helicopters were grounded.”  

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong said on Thursday the army did not overpay and Mr Srisuwan might have misunderstood.

“The price is already 300 million baht for a plain model but we ordered simulators and some accessories installed for flight training,” he said.

Army deputy spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree explained while the starting prices were comparable, the private sector outsources maintenance and repair services while the army ordered everything as a package, hence the higher prices.

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