PM orders National Parks chief moved to facilitate graft probe

PM orders National Parks chief moved to facilitate graft probe

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation director-general Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, in yellow T-shirt and black jacket, is taken to the Counter Counter Corruption Division (CCD) on Tuesday to hear charges of malfeasance and demanding bribes. (Photo supplied/ Wassayos Ngamkham)
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation director-general Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, in yellow T-shirt and black jacket, is taken to the Counter Counter Corruption Division (CCD) on Tuesday to hear charges of malfeasance and demanding bribes. (Photo supplied/ Wassayos Ngamkham)

The prime minister signed an order shunting the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation chief to an inactive post at the PM’s Office on Wednesday, to facilitate the investigation into the top official’s alleged demands for huge bribes.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha moved department director-general Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya to assist with work at the PM’s Office under Section 11 of the State Administration Act, effective immediately.

Mr Wissanu said the order ensured that Mr Rutchada could not excercise his authority and influence as head of the department while the investigation continued.

“On the issue of whether to discharge or expel (the department chief), a disciplinary investigation must be conducted or there must be clear wrongdoing first. For the time being, he must be taken out first. This is tantamount to a 50% punishment. Whether he is moved back later or expelled is another step,’’ said Mr Wissanu, the cabinet's legal expert.

Department chief Rutchada was arrested on Tuesday morning for allegedly demanding huge bribes from his subordinates for postings and budget allocations. He was released on police bail with 400,000 baht cash as surety after being interrogated at the Counter Corruption Commission (CCD) head office on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, a fact-finding committee set up separately by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, which oversees his department, on Wednesday moved Mr Rutchada to the office of the ministry's permanent secretary for the duration of its probe.

Kusol Chotirat, deputy permanent secretary of the ministry and chairman of the fact-finding panel, announced the move. He said the period was not yet set.

Mr Rutchada had not yet been called to give his side of the story, Mr Kusol said. 

He said the permanent secretary had the authority to call the department chief for questioning.

The fact-finding panel would coordinate its inquiry with CCD police, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.

His panel had so far not received additional complaints from government officials working at agencies under the department.

He said it was the first time such bribery had been exposed at the ministry and senior officials were shocked on learning about it.

Mr Kusol departed for Government House to report on the bribery case to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who oversees the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

CCD police commander Jaroonkiat Pankaew said on Wednesday that Mr Rutchada kept denying all charges, claiming that he had been at odds with the man who filed the initial complaint, Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, former head of Kaeng Krachan National Park. Investigators were not convinced and would be guided by the evidence, Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat said.

Mr Chaiwat and three others are facing multiple charges in connection with the disappearance and alleged murder of Karen rights activist Polajee “Billy” Pakchongchaoren in 2014. The four defendants pleaded not guilty in the case.

On Sept 29 this year, the Phetchaburi Administrative Court ruled to reinstated Mr Chaiwat to the civil service after he was sacked over his alleged role in the burning of Karen villagers' homes about a decade ago.


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