Udomdej insists park foundation in clear

Udomdej insists park foundation in clear

Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr yesterday insisted the army committee running the foundation that built and operates Rajabhakti Park has nothing to do with alleged irregularities in its construction.

He said it was a matter between the foundries contracted to cast statues of past Thai kings at the park and a private party attempting to demand commission fees from the foundries during the construction period.

Gen Udomdej said the events occurred after the Rajabhakti committee had reached agreements with the foundries regarding the casting of the statues.

"But after we discovered that something possibly improper had happened, I have to say 'possibly improper', the committee did step in to ensure the project maintain its charitable intent.

"But the committee's role has been mistakenly seen as a dishonest one," he said.

On Nov 10, Gen Udomdej, who chaired the Rajabhakti Park Foundation when he was army chief, admitted that during construction an amulet trader cited "people in authority" to demand commission fees from some foundry owners who were contracted to cast statues of the Thai kings.

Gen Udomdej said he sent a negotiator to ask him to return the money to the foundry owners. When they got their money back, the foundry owners donated it to the park project, he said.

"I insist everything has been done in an honest manner. In fact, the committee overseeing the park construction was even praised for taking care of that problem even though it was not the committee's responsibility," said Gen Udomdej.

"I already said in my first interview [about the park controversy] that it was partly true. As a matter of fact, it's a matter involving two private parties, not something that the committee could get involved in," he said.

When asked about mounting pressure on him to resign over the park controversy, he said those who want him to resign should wait for the results of the investigation by the Defence Ministry's panel looking into the park matter.

He was sure the park committee could explain the alleged irregularities surrounding the park construction project to the ministry panel. 

In another development, Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) core leaders Nattawut Saikuar and Jatuporn Prompan had accepted an invitation to visit the ministry's centre for national anti-corruption to provide information about the park controversy.

The ministry also had contacted the Office of the Auditor-General and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) telling them the two UDD leaders may have some details for them as well, said Gen Paiboon.

Last week, five red-shirt leaders, including Mr Nattawut and Mr Jatuporn, were detained by soldiers while on their way to visit Rajabhakti Park.

Before their trip, the two said they were interested in a field trip and finding out about alleged irregularities in the construction of the park and the casting of the seven giant statues of the kings.

They were detained, but released a few hours later.

Gen Paiboon also remarked on Sunday's move by a group of anti-coup activists, including university students, allegedly aiming to stage a publicity stunt by visiting the park to inspect the park and uncover irregularities.

They were intercepted before they reached the park as planned and held for questioning. The army also told their parents to ensure their children do not cause further trouble.

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