The official who exposed the bribery scandal involving the country’s national parks chief has debunked claims that some of the cash found in the accused bureaucrat’s office was meant to pay for amulets.
Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn was responding to a statement reportedly made by a Pattani-based park official to police in the case of Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, the head of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).
The Pattani official told Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) investigators that 100,000 baht in cash inside an envelope from his province was rent for Buddhist amulets and replicas of the late King Rama V, not bribe money.
He was one of 15 officials summoned by police to give statements as witneseses in the case against their boss. So far, only three have come forward.
Mr Chaiwat, director of the Protected Areas Regional Office 9 based in Ubon Ratchathani, on Thursday wrote in an open letter to his fellow “forest keepers” in the DNP to counter the Pattani official’s statement.
He said rental fees for Buddhist amulets and replicas of King Rama V must be paid by money transfers to the department’s welfare fund. He attached documents for such transfers as proof.
All 21 agencies under the DNP that rented the replicas for 15,000 baht each were required to transfer the money to the welfare fund only. They were not told to bring the cash to Mr Rutchada in his office, said Mr Chaiwat.
He has already submitted evidence about the rental procedure to ACD investigators.
Mr Chaiwat earlier filed a complaint with police against Mr Rutchada, accusing him of abusing his authority by transferring officials to positions far from their home provinces unless they paid him up to 500,000 baht.
Mr Rutchada was arrested at his office on Dec 27 on suspicion of demanding or taking bribes from subordinates and malfeasance in office. He was released on bail, offering 400,000 baht cash as surety.
Police found an envelope containing 98,000 baht in his possession, money police had planted as part of a sting operation, and another 4.9 million baht in cash in his safe. Much of the money was in envelopes with the names of subordinates on them.
Mr Chaiwat has emerged as an unlikely hero in the corruption saga, given that he is facing a trial for murder, the most serious of the allegations related to his tenure as the former head of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi.
He and three others have pleaded not guilty in the disappearance and murder of Karen rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014 when Mr Chaiwat was in charge of Kaeng Krachan. The Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases is now screening lists of evidence and witnesses to be called in the case.
Mr Chaiwat was sacked over his alleged role in the burning of Karen villagers’ homes in the park about a decade ago but he challenged the decision. The Phetchaburi Administrative Court in September last year reinstated him as a civil servant.