The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has come under fire for appointing the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon to a panel scrutinising the draft organic law on the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) when the younger sibling is being probed by the same body.
NACC chairman Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit yesterday came out to defend the appointment of two legislative panelists scrutinising the organic bill on the NACC who face a fact-finding investigation by the commission.
One is former national police chief Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon, the younger brother of Gen Prawit. The other is Pol Lt Gen Boonrueng Polpanich, a member of the NLA.
They face accusations of being unusually wealthy.
Pol Gen Watcharapol, who is also a member of the panel scrutinising the draft organic bill on the NLA, said the two cases have not yet reached the inquiry stage and that both officials must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
He said there is no reason to deny Pol Gen Patcharawat or Pol Lt Gen Boonrueng a place on the panel, which is chaired by Pol Gen Chatchawal Suksomjit, an NLA member.
A formal complaint was reportedly filed with the NACC on March 26, 2010.
It alleged that Pol Gen Patcharawat, the then-national police chief, and Pol Lt Gen Boonrueng, who was the deputy national police chief at the time, displayed unusual wealth in co-owning the Rungroj Rungpatchara horse stable in Saraburi. It was allegedly worth hundreds of millions of baht.
Pol Gen Patcharawat also faces a separate petition in the NACC for allegedly concealing his wealth by putting the names of his wife and daughter down as co-owners of a resort in Samut Prakan.
Links to details of the fact-finding work into Pol Gen Patcharawat and Pol Lt Gen Boonrueng on the NACC website were available online but have since been closed to public access, according to reports.
A source in the NACC said the body was unaware the link had been taken down but promised earlier to alert the NACC information technology centre about the problem.
The centre said later the link was under maintenance to facilitate a database transfer.
In the case of the resort, the NACC set up a sub-panel to collect facts and evidence in 2014 and invited the accused to submit an explanation and counter allegation.
Earlier this year, NACC officials were sent to inspect the resort and in May, they presented their findings to the sub-panel which summoned witnesses to give statements.
Yesterday, Pol Gen Watcharapol said the NACC is investigating 3,000 cases involving high-ranking officials and all are presumed innocent until guilt can be established.
Meanwhile, he said former officials appointed to the scrutiny panel would not constitute a conflict of interest because they are working to vet the organic draft law and cannot interfere with the NACC's fact-finding probe.
The NACC organic bill was accepted for deliberation by the NLA in its first reading on Thursday by an unanimous vote of 200 in favour, with four abstentions.
A 35-member scrutiny committee has been set up to vet the bill on the second reading, according to NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai.
The panel can change the contents of the bill as it sees fit. The bill was drafted by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), which is chaired by Meechai Ruchupan.
But if the CDC does not agree with the changes, a joint committee involving representatives from the CDC and NLA may be formed to thrash out a solution after the NLA has passed the bill and while it is pending royal endorsement.
Wilas Chantharapithak, a former Democrat Party MP for Bangkok, urged Pol Gen Patcharawat to withdraw from the panel immediately.
He said the former national police chief must demonstrate a clear conscience and not make himself a target of criticism that he may wish to meddle with the ongoing probe into his case with the NACC.
If he remains on the panel, it could raise suspicion he may attempt to alter the NACC organic bill for his own interest, Mr Wilas said.
"If Pol Gen Patcharawat doesn't want to see the organic law blemished, he must make a decision on whether to step down," he said.
The former MP said Pol Gen Patcharawat has never played a role in busting graft in the past.
"The NLA might not be aware that Pol Gen Patcharawat is embroiled in an NACC probe. But now that the information is out, the assembly should not sit on its hands. It must do something or face the consequences," said Mr Wilas.
Mr Wilas served as chairman of the House standing committee on anti-corruption during the former Yingluck Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva administrations.