A senior Bangkok district official caught with an envelope containing 3.2 million baht in cash has denied it was a bribe he allegedly demanded from a development company, telling police he thought it held only a document.
Pramual Saengkaewsri, 57, head of the Ratchathewi district office revenue section, was arrested in the car park of a hotel in Phaya Thai area of Ratchathewi district on Tuesday.
He was charged with, as an official, demanding or receiving a bribe and malfeasance in office in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code, Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew, commander of the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD), told reporters.
He alleged that Mr Pramual had contacted a real estate company about the payment of building and land tax totalling about 40 million baht. Allegedly, if the firm agreed to pay him 3 million baht, he would help it avoid the tax.
Mr Pramual then increased the amount to 3.5 million baht, saying it was for service fees as he had to share the money to with other committee members. After negotiations, the amount was allegedly reduced to 3.2 million baht.
The company management thought he was acting inappropriately, preferred to pay the building and land tax legally, and reported the matter to the ACD, Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat said.
Police investigators concluded there were grounds to the allegation and planned a sting. A company representative would deliver the 3.2 million baht to Mr Pramual at an agreed venue - a hotel car park in Phaya Thai area.
As the appointed time approached, police saw Mr Pramual arrive driving an official car. An envelope containing the money was handed over, and police then arrested him, Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat said. The envelope containing the money was immediately impounded as evidence.
During questioning, Mr Pramual denied all charges. He said he did not know the envelope contained money. He said he thought it was only a document.
Police were not moved by his denial. He was being held in custody for legal proceedings.
Bangkok city clerk Khachit Chatchawanit said on Wednesday that an internal investigation had also begun. Mr Pramual could be charged with a serious disciplinary violation, he said.
Administratively, Mr Pramual has been moved from Ratchathewi to the office of the permanent secretary of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. The investigation was proceeding, Mr Khachit said.
Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt said on Wednesday the BMA had received a complaint from the firm two months ago about a bribe demand involving the head of the revenue section at Ratchathewi district office.
The city administration had to move cautiously. There was no evidence and the BMA had no authority to arrest the official. It had instead worked closely with police anti-corruption agencies, leading to the police operation on Tuesday.
He warned other district offices that the BMA would take a tough stand against corruption. All officials must have clean records, he said.
Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew, commander of the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD), dark green jacket, talks to Pramual Saengkaewsri, head of the Ratchathewi district office revenue section in Bangkok, after an envelope holding 3.2 million baht was seized from him during the operation on Tuesday (Photo supplied/ Wassayos Ngamkham)