Probe looms in Microsoft case
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Probe looms in Microsoft case

Tech giant gave gifts and travel to Thai bank staff to win deals

Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT)
Mana Nimitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT)

The Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) is urging the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate a reported bribery case that involves tech giant Microsoft Corp.

ACT secretary-general, Mana Nimitmongkol, made the call in response to reports that Microsoft agreed to pay about US$16.6 million (about 512 million baht) to settle a charge brought against it by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over kickbacks to government officials paid out by its executives in Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Turkey.

"Now that the issue is public knowledge, the NACC has a duty to tell the public about what happened, and what it plans to do about it," Mr Mana said. "They can't just turn a blind eye to it."

Mr Mana said that he had checked with NACC officials and learned that the anti-graft agency has not received any information about the case.

According to Reuters, Microsoft Corp agreed to pay a total of US$25.3 million in settlement and criminal fines, after it pleaded no contest to charges made by the SEC which alleged that the company paid out bribes to smooth out deals in Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Turkey.

Microsoft was charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, after it failed to properly account for the payments in its financial statements.

One of the charges claimed that Microsoft paid for "improper" travel expenses and gifts to "non-government banking customers" in Thailand through "slush funds" maintained by a proxy. The gifts and travel given to local bank staff were worth about $100,000, paid for from funds diverted from approved training budgets.

Mr Mana said that while the impact on national security or important national databases have yet to be determined, the government needs to pay attention to all corruption cases, irregardless of their nature.

"We need to pay special attention to transnational cases, as these involve the dignity [of Thais]," he said.

He also said that among the 12 corruption cases involving foreign actors that are currently being investigated by the NACC, only the case involving former Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor, Juthamas Siriwan, has been decided in court.

Juthamas was found guilty of receiving bribes in exchange for the rights to host the Bangkok International Film Festival between 2002 and 2007.

Other cases being probed by the NACC include kickbacks paid by the British engineering giant Rolls-Royce, whose executives admitted to bribing officials of PTT and PTT Exploration and Production Plc in connection with equipment procurement, as well as Thai Airways executives to secure a deal to fit Rolls-Royce engines to the flag carrier's fleet.

In December last year, several former executives of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) admitted to a Tokyo court that they had bribed Thai officials to sort out the contract for a power plant project.

Before the admission, NACC president Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said in July 2018 that the NACC would charge the officials in question, after its investigators were shown pictures of the officials demanding bribes from MHPS employees.

That said, Pol Gen Watcharapol refused to go into details about the investigation.

However, NACC member Surasak Keereevichien said that a Marine Department official, a local politician and a village headman are among the those accused of demanding bribes.

MHPS employees took photographs of the officials who received the payments, which was reported to be about 20 million baht.

"Thailand always begins an investigation after other countries have already concluded theirs," said Mr Mana. "This means that we don't have the adequate mechanisms in place to detect and prevent graft."

That said, Mr Mana said that he is glad that fighting corruption is included in the government's policy manifesto. "Since 1932, no government included anti-corruption measures in their policy manifestos," he said.

"The inclusion now means the government is committed, and will be scrutinised for it."

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