Prayut orders probe into Thai PBS investment in agro-giant

Prayut orders probe into Thai PBS investment in agro-giant

Director resigns, as outcry forces channel to review its policy

Once Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed interest in the deal, Thai PBS executives cancelled their purchase of debentures of influential Charoen Pokphand Foods. (File photos)
Once Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed interest in the deal, Thai PBS executives cancelled their purchase of debentures of influential Charoen Pokphand Foods. (File photos)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered an inquiry into Thai Public Broadcasting Service's (Thai PBS) controversial investment in debentures issued by an agro-industrial conglomerate.

The public broadcaster has come under public criticism since news emerged of its decision to buy the debentures worth more than 100 million baht issued by Charoen Pokphand Foods Plc (CPF).

Responding to the criticism, Thai PBS said Wednesday it would scrap the investment and review its "investment policy framework".

Thai PBS said it reached the decision late last year as part of the budget planning process.

But late on Wednesday, PBS director Krisda Rueangareerat announced his resignation over the broadcaster's controversial investment. Thai PBS itself announced that Mr Krisda said he decided to quit because he wanted to show his spirit and responsibility over the issue after it was widely criticised by the public.

The station's investment in CPF has raised ethical questions about whether it would compromise the independence of its news reporting.

Thai PBS is financed by a state grant of 1.5% of earmarked tax collected from alcohol and cigarette sales, or so-called sin taxes, but capped at no more than two billion baht a year.

In a statement, Thai PBS apologised to the public for causing concern and thanked Thais for their criticism and suggestions.

In response to the controversial investment, Gen Prayut said authorities have been asked to look into the matter. He said he could not say if the public broadcaster's purchase of a private company's bonds is right or wrong.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declined to comment Wednesday, saying he had no details about the investment and would ask Thai PBS to clarify.

Mr Wissanu said he is in charge of policy administration and does not interfere in the broadcaster's management. Thai PBS is not required to report its investment decisions to the government, he said.

The broadcaster said the investment in CPF bonds was intended to maximise the efficiency of its asset management as allowed by the Thai PBS law.

The station has no policy to invest in shares or equity instruments for risk management reasons.

The investment in CPF's bonds was proposed to the Thai PBS board as part of annual budget planning. The investment decision was subject to consultation with financial advisers and limited to bonds only.

When approved by the board, management proceeded with the investment.

However, amid growing criticism of its investment in CPF, the station said it had decided to review its investment framework and scrapped certain investments in some companies that may cause public concerns. The decision would be proposed to the station's board as soon as possible.

Early this week, Thai PBS director Krisda Rueangareerat defended the investment, saying it was recommended by investment specialists and approved by the board in November last year.

He said Thai PBS also invested in bonds of the government and state enterprises, and in bank savings.

He insisted the CPF investment was not designed for profit-seeking and was in line with Section 11 (7) of the Thai PBS law which allows the broadcaster to invest in the private sector and appoint consultants to advise on financial matters.

Mr Krisda also allayed fears the investment would compromise the station's impartiality and independence.

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