Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow admitted on Monday that his assistant had met a man who was said to be hoarding face masks, but he denied they discussed the mask trade.
Mr Thamanat was responding to a report on Facebook alleging that his close aide had a hoard of 200 million medical masks for resale to China.
He said on his Facebook page there was a man hoarding masks for sale, but he had no connection with the man. Mr Thamanat named the man.
His close aide Pittinant Rak-iad was advised by a friend to meet the man at the Marriott Hotel in Pratunam area to discuss a matter involving masks, but they did not make a deal to trade in any masks, Mr Thamanat wrote.
Mr Pittinant had not known the man and it was their first meeting, the deputy agriculture minister said. He had instructed Mr Pittinant to ask police to take action against the man.
Mr Thamanat said that if Mr Pittinant were to be involved in any such offence, he would support his prosecution.
He also said the story was an attempt to discredit him and seek his removal from the cabinet.
Reporters asked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to comment on the issue, but he remained tight-lipped.
Sornsuvee “Boy” Pooraveenasawatchari, who claimed to be a close aide to Mr Pittinant, told crime suppression police in Chon Buri province on Monday afternoon he had not stocked any face masks.
Mr Sornsuvee said he had acted out of ignorance and apologised to the public.
Asked about a clip he posted showing himself with a large inventory of face masks, he said he did not know to whom it belonged.
“I just wanted to show off I had found the much sought-after masks since the product is in short supply. No one could find them. I found them but didn’t have the money to buy, so I posted on Facebook.”
He again apologised for creating a misunderstanding and said he posted without knowing how large the stock was.
When reporters asked who the masks belong to, Mr SornSuvee said: “No one. I’ve never seen them. I don’t know who the owner is. I know nothing.”
His lawyer said: “Khun Boy is an online trader. He did not have the products. He just posted an ad and then finds products to resell. He’s just a middle man and doesn’t stock anything."
Earlier, Mr Sornsuvee’s Facebook posts and video clips were copied by Mam Pho Dam, a popular independent investigator of current affairs on the platform, who claimed to know why the products could not be found in the Thai market.
Mam Pho Dam claimed all the posts she captured were from Mr Sornsuvee, who boasted of having 200 million pieces. His Facebook was closed later.
In a post at 12.15am on Monday. A post on his Facebook read: “5 million pieces available tomorrow at 14 baht each. For hospital and medical use. Minimum order 1 million pieces. You can show [proof of] your financial positions or bring Chinese buyers. Brokers with no readily available money need not waste their time. Hurry. Price is not high for three-ply products. Goods are with my team.” He also added the hashtag #WorkAsTeam.
The post also shows two photos of opened cases filled with green boxes containing 50 pieces each and a few samples on top. A label on one of the cases partially shows what appears to be “made in Thailand” and the name of a local manufacturer.
A clip in early February shows several cases being loaded on a truck with Mr Sornsuvee supervising the process. He was heard in the clip saying he was filling orders to China and giving an assurance he had plenty of products for sale to “anyone who has the money”.
Another post shows a photo of Mr Sornsuvee and Mr Pittinant at a hotel with a Chinese merchant. Mr Pittanant, a former candidate of Palang Pracharath, is an aide to Mr Thamanat.
Face masks have mysteriously been in tight supply. Authorities have said they have distributed them in adequate numbers to hospitals and normal trade channels.
Medical workers insist the shortages at their facilities persist, while the drugstores’ trade group issued a statement saying they had never received them.