Ex-judge denies bribe tie

Ex-judge denies bribe tie

Former court chief Salaikate weighs into Toyota tax case row

Salaikate: Among judges in report
Salaikate: Among judges in report

Salaikate Wattanaphan, former president of the Supreme Court, has denied any involvement in the bribery case linked to a tax dispute involving a Thai subsidiary of automaker Toyota, Toyota Motor Thailand (TMT).

In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, he insisted that since he wasn't in a position to make any decisions on Toyota's appeal against the Appeal Court's ruling in the tax dispute case, it is impossible that he would be offered as much money as claimed.

He was responding to a report by Law360 published on Wednesday that the US Department of Justice is taking the Toyota bribery probe involving three top Thai judges to a grand jury.

The Law360 report said federal investigators were seeking to establish whether TMT had paid a former Supreme Court president and a Supreme Court senior adviser to persuade the Supreme Court president at the time to accept Toyota's argument.

Mr Salaikate is among the judges mentioned in the report.

The case in the focus involves a tax dispute worth about 10 billion baht between TMT and tax authorities over the imports of parts for Prius cars.

The rulings by the Central Tax Court and the Appeal Court contradict each other and the case involves an international agreement Thailand is bound to uphold.

The Central Tax Court, which is the first court, ruled in favour of TMT to revoke the tax authorities' order for TMT to pay additional tariffs and taxes.

The Appeal Court reversed the ruling, requiring TMT to pay the sum.

TMT then submitted a petition with the Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case.

The decision whether the Supreme Court's ruling should be reviewed lay with the Supreme Court's Tax Case Division.

Mr Salaikate said he was president of the court back then but wasn't directly involved in the decision.

"And while serving as the court president, two other senior judges accused of being involved in the bribery case did not consult me about the taxi dispute case either," he said.

More importantly, the decision to review the Appeal Court's ruling in the tax dispute case was only announced in March, while Mr Salaikate had retired since September last year, he said.

It was quite a long time from when nine judges were assigned to handle case documents around the time he served as the Supreme Court president, to when the decision on TMT's appeal was reached several months after his retirement, he said.

"So, accusations that senior judges were paid US$19 million and later US$27 million were sketchy … who would ever be silly enough to pay that much money to them while not knowing how the decision [on the appeal] would turn," he said.

Suriyan Hongvilai, spokesman of the Office of the Judiciary which is the Courts of Justice's secretariat, said the office on Friday appointed a working group to look into the alleged bribery case.

The probe is urgent and its findings will be made public.

Phongdet Wanitkittikun, secretary-general of the Office of the Judiciary, will be head of the working group, comprising 10 members, Mr Suriyan said.

A source said the three judges will tomorrow authorise the OJ to lodge on their behalf a complaint with the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) against those who claimed on the internet that senior judges of the Supreme Court had taken bribes.

Chaisit Trachutham, former senior judge in the Appeal Court who was also mentioned in the Law360 report, gave an interview to Thai PBS, denying the allegation.

He said he was the one who argued in the plenary assembly of the Appeal Court judges that TMT should lose the case before the majority -- 70 judges -- at the assembly voted against TMT.

Only 10 judges voted that the TMT should win the case.

He said he was wondering why TMT had not come out to defend itself against the bribery payment claims after Law360 published its report.

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