Democrats cleared of 2009 rice allegations
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Democrats cleared of 2009 rice allegations

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has cleared senior Democrat Party figures of wrongdoing in connection with rice sales made in 2009 when the party led the government.

Former prime minister and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva walks in a paddy field in Sukhothai during the 2011 election campaign. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

The anti-graft body had been investigating allegations of irregularities against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, former deputy premier Trairong Suwannakhiri and former commerce minister Porntiva Nakasai.

Mrs Porntiva had been accused of selling government rice cheaper than market prices in 2009 and refusing to sell rice to two bidders, Wutthikawee Co and Singtothong Rice Corporation, that had offered higher quotations.

In a statement on Friday, the NACC said it found that the selling prices were naturally lower than market prices because buyers could deduct the costs of transporting rice from government warehouses and depreciation from the government's sale prices.

As well, it said, Mrs Porntiva had already approved a previous rice sale to Singtothong Rice and Wutthikawee Co had abandoned its bid, so they were disqualified from the 2009 sale.

Former commerce minister Porntiva Nakasai

Other allegations were made against Mr Abhisit in his capacity as chairman of the National Rice Policy Committee, Mr Trairong as the deputy chair, Mrs Porntiva as head of a rice release committee, and Manas Soiphet, former director-general of the Foreign Trade Department, who headed a rice release working group.

They were accused of inviting exporters with substantial rice orders to buy government rice instead of calling bids. As well, they allegedly approved rice sales cheaper than market prices.

Mr Trairong and Mr Manas were also accused of releasing government rice secretly. As well, Mrs Porntiva allegedly had connections with MT Centertrade as Veerasak Jinarat, an assistant to the former commerce minister, placed a 25-million-baht cashier's cheque as a guarantee for the company to seal a rice purchase contract with the Marketing Organisation for Farmers.

The cashier's cheque came from Mr Veerasak's Northeastern Polytechnic College in Ubon Ratchathani.

The NACC found that bids were not called because doing so would have had a negative impact on local and international rice prices and could thus affect the government's sales.

Direct invitations to exporters with substantial orders had been applied in 2003 and had been approved by the National Rice Policy Committee and the cabinet, the NACC said. The qualifications of those exporters and the rice orders were required to be verified.

The NACC also found that selling prices were lower than market prices because buyers were allowed to deduct their rice transport costs and a depreciation allowance from their quotations. In any case, the prices agreed were still higher than the median price the government had set.

After the rice sales were approved, it said, information on rice releases as well as the amounts and prices were kept secret only to protect prices.

The NACC also said it had not found any evidence to link Mrs Porntiva with the case of Mr Veerasak. However, it said it would continue to look into the issue and reach a conclusion soon.

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