Graft fight gathers steam
Former anti-corruption member pushing reforms to restore faith in Thailand's justice system
Vicha Mahakun, the head of a committee probing the alleged mishandling in the 2012 hit-and-run case involving the Red Bull scion, Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya, says his panel will do everything in its power to restore public confidence in Thailand's justice system.
In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, the former National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) member stressed the need to stamp out graft in the judicial system and processes which have discouraged investors, most of whom do not want to pay kickbacks and/or bribe corrupt officials.
"The biggest weakness in our anti-graft effort is that some people still think justice can be bought," Mr Vicha said, stressing the importance of educating the public about the impact of corruption in society.
"We must show that the loss of justice is more serious than losing money. Investors will not invest if they know they cannot compete without paying money under the table," he said.
On Aug 31, the Vicha-led committee submitted a full report of its investigation results to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The report suggests a conspiracy among numerous officials within the judiciary, with state officials, political office-holders, lawyers and even witnesses consistently intervening in the judicial procedure.
When asked to comment on the alleged mishandling of the hit-and-run case, Mr Vicha said the case didn't only involve money, but also connections.
The five-point proposal made by the committee urged the government to revive the hit-and-run case; take legal and disciplinary action against people found in the wrong; look into the ethical conduct of those involved in the case; redefine the role and authority of supervisors and give the committee another month to make recommendations on legal reform.
The committee said the task of handling complaints filed by Mr Vorayuth's legal team shouldn't have been handled by the same deputy attorney-general, who was in charge of indicting him at the same time.
In its report, the Vicha committee identified eight groups of people who played a role in the controversial dropping of charges against Mr Vorayuth.
Gen Prayut ordered the Vicha-led panel to look into the case after public prosecutors' decision to not indict Mr Vorayuth on a charge of reckless driving causing death sparked public outrage.
That has also prompted similar investigations by the Office of the Attorney-General and the Royal Thai Police into the handling of the case.
Mr Vicha told the Bangkok Post the next job will be for the panel to come up with recommendations on legal and justice reform within 30 days as assigned by the prime minister.
One of the priorities will be to push for the passage of two key bills which have become bogged down in parliament for a long time -- one relating to the Royal Thai Police and the other on the criminal investigation, he said.
The core of the police bill is that investigators must be specialists in their fields, and they have to be allowed to work independently without interference.
The focus of the criminal investigation bill, meanwhile, is to allow agencies involved in the justice process -- particularly the police and public prosecutors -- to scrutinise each other's decision, Mr Vicha said.
"The criminal investigation reforms bill has been stuck for a long time. We have to do what we can do first," he said.
"This is a part of our proposal to reassure the public that justice will be served in every step of the process, from the investigation to prosecution and trial."
He also said the panel will try to complete its job within the given 30-day time frame, and it will not ask the prime minister for any more time. "This is to show that we aren't dragging our feet to buy more time for the government," he said.
Mr Vicha said he is optimistic that the bills, once passed, will count towards the effort to build a better justice system -- one that doesn't involve power plays by individuals or organisations in an attempt to maintain the status quo.
"Right now, prosecutors can only act once they receive investigation reports from the police, who can only investigate once instructed by the prosecution," Mr Vicha said.
"Each has their own powers, but they cannot deliver justice because they lack synergy and common rationale."
He went on to say that under the bill on criminal investigation, prosecutors would be allowed to look into a case from the start, on the condition that the case must involve a serious offence which causes death, severe damage or trauma, such as murder and human trafficking.