Prawit in the soup over fancy trinkets

Prawit in the soup over fancy trinkets

Graftbusters pledge to probe declared assets

First Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon seems to love to show off luxury jewellery but has so far refused to come up with an explanation of their origins. (Bangkok Post file photos)
First Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon seems to love to show off luxury jewellery but has so far refused to come up with an explanation of their origins. (Bangkok Post file photos)

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon will be investigated for possible corruption in failing to report a luxury watch and diamond ring in his declaration of assets and liabilities as required by the anti-graft agency.

Acting National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said Wednesday the case has caught the public's attention and the office of the NACC can proceed with the investigation immediately.

He said he would inform the NACC meeting today that the office will examine the issue.

Mr Worawit insisted the anti-graft agency does not feel under pressure because of Gen Prawit's senior role.

The flashy diamond ring and luxurious watch were seen when the deputy premier raised his right hand to shield his face from the sun during a group photo session for the new cabinet on Monday.

As the pictures were shared on social media, some netizens pointed out his expensive jewellery and questioned how he was able to afford such luxury assets despite having only served as a state official.

A Facebook page called CSI LA, popular for its investigative reports, claimed the watch was a platinum Richard Mille RM 002V2 model worth US$370,000.

The Facebook page's administrator also pointed out Gen Prawit's diamond ring is at least five karats, giving it a value of 4 million baht ($122,600) or more, citing over 10 years' experience in the US jewellery industry.

Gen Prawit said Wednesday he was ready to explain the matter to the NACC.

"I will answer to the NACC," said Gen Prawit, who also serves as defence minister. He refused to tell the media when he obtained the watch.

"I have never committed malfeasance. No way," he said.

The Pheu Thai Party has railed against Gen Prawit over the issue.

Acting Pheu Thai deputy spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard said the watch was not on the list of assets and liabilities declared by Gen Prawit, who assumed his role in government on Oct 7, 2014.

Mr Anusorn said this could violate the Anti-Corruption Act of 2009.

He said Gen Prawit's assets were recorded as having risen by over 30 million baht from 2008 -- when he served the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva as the defence minister -- to 2014.

Mr Anusorn questioned why the deputy premier's money in his declaration had not dropped if he purchased the watch during that period.

He also noted that if someone had given Gen Prawit the watch, this would have breached NACC regulations, which bar state officials from receiving an asset worth 3,000 baht or more as a gift.

Pheu Thai Party lawyer Ruangkrai Leekitwattana said that aside from the watch and ring, Gen Prawit's amulet necklaces -- worth more than 200,000 baht -- should also have been reported when the deputy premier declared his assets.

Mr Ruangkrai said he would let NACC chairman Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit deal with the issue initially.

If the probe fails to make any significant progress in the next two weeks, he said he would petition the anti-graft body to ramp up the investigation.

Panthep Klanarongran, chairman of the reform committee on the prevention and suppression of corruption, refused to comment on the case, when questioned by the media.

He said the issue would be handled by the NACC and his organisation would not interfere.

Mana Minitmongkol, secretary-general of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), said this case highlights how Thai people have become active in fighting corruption.

"In just two days, people will lodge a complaint [on the case] with the NACC, and I believe the follow-up will be a quick response from that agency," he said.

He said regardless of the results of the probe the case will not prove a wasted exercise as it will educate the public more on their power to fight corruption at the very highest echelons of government.

Gen Prawit graduated from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy (Class 17), the same class as former army chief, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who staged the coup in 2006 that ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The deputy premier rose up through the ranks at the Prachin Buri-based 2nd Infantry Division, known as the Burapha Phayak (Tigers of the East), where he became close to Gen Prayut and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda.

In December 2008, Gen Prawit was appointed defence minister in the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, a position he held for almost three years.

After the 2014 military takeover he was appointed deputy chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). He also serves as the deputy premier and defence minister.

He was born into a middle-class family. His father was a major general.

From 2012 to March of this year, the Supreme Court has ruled against 324 people in relation to fraud in declared assets.

The NACC forwarded the cases to the Supreme Court to issue formal rulings.

Twelve of the cases involved national politicians, 11 ensnared board members of state enterprises and the rest were linked to local politicians.

Of all the cases, 316 people were found to have intentionally avoided submitting some of their assets. Six deliberately submitted false information about their assets.

Two people -- Somsak Prisananathakul, the former education minister and a member of the Chartthaipattana Party; and Kasem Nimolrat, the former Pheu Thai MP for Chiang Mai -- were convicted for showing "unusual wealth".

Mr Somsak was sentenced to six months, suspended for three years, by the Supreme Court on May 4, 2012.

He was convicted of trying to conceal his houses and money, worth 30 million baht in total.

The Supreme Court also ruled last year that Mr Somsak was unusually rich and seized 16 million baht worth of his property in Ang Thong.

Six of the 324 who were convicted received jail terms without having their sentences suspended.

Gen Prawit was 'teased by reporters' on Monday when reporters caught the sun glinting off his watch and ring as he shielded his eyes while waiting for a group photo with the new cabinet at Government House. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu) Below: Gen Prawit's full asset disclosure form, with the red circle indicating where he was supposed to list "other valuable" assets such as jewellery.

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