A 30-day deadline has been given to Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon to explain exactly how he acquired a luxury watch and diamond ring.
This follows suspicions that he failed to report them in his declaration of assets and liabilities as required by an anti-graft agency.
The Richard Mille watch in question and a diamond ring came under the media spotlight when Gen Prawit raised his right hand wearing the items to shield his face from the sun during a group photo session for the new cabinet on Monday.
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The pictures then went viral amid questions whether he had declared the expensive assets after they were found not to be included in his previous declarations.
The value of the watch remains unclear. A Facebook page called CSI LA, popular for its investigative reports, speculated that the watch was likely the RM 002V2 model worth US$370,000, or about 12 million baht.
But some watch experts believe it could be the RM 010 model priced at more than three million baht.
According to an unconfirmed article in Post Today, Gen Prawit's Richard Mille brand watch could even be a Tourbillon RM 56-02 Sapphire model that sells for $2 million, or about 65 million baht. Other reports identify it as a $375,000 (12 million baht) model.
The CSI LA page also pointed out Gen Prawit’s diamond ring is at least five carats, giving it a value of 4 million baht or more, citing over 10 years’ experience in the US jewellery industry.
Acting National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said Thursday that Gen Prawit is now required to write to explain to the NACC how the assets were acquired within 30 days. He can hand in a letter of explanation to the agency in person.
Mr Worawit said that initially there is no need to set up an inquiry panel to investigate the issue, adding the case is not complicated and it will not take long to look into the matter.
When the NACC reaches any conclusion, it will be revealed to the public, Mr Worawit said.
Political activist Srisuwan Janya, who also serves as secretary-general of his Association to Protect the Thai Constitution, submitted a petition Thursday to the NACC, asking it to investigate Gen Prawit for allegedly submitting a false declaration of assets to the NACC and concealing information that must be declared to the agency.
Mr Srisuwan also accused Gen Prawit of being unusually wealthy under Section 66 of the National Anti-Corruption Act.
“Gen Prawit served in the army for about 40 years and was a political office holder for two terms, without any businesses. He could not possibly acquire such a great deal of wealth,” Mr Srisuwan said.
He urged the NACC to strictly enforce the law in the same manner as in previous cases against other politicians. The investigation into this case would prove the abilities of the NACC as an anti-graft body, Mr Srisuwan said.
Under the anti-graft law, political office-holders are only required to declare their assets and liabilities upon taking and leaving office. They are not required to declare assets while in office.
Gen Prawit, who also serves as defence minister, earlier said he would only explain the matter to the NACC. He refused to talk to the media about it.
NACC president Pol Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit said an NACC meeting has received a report on the case and the meeting agreed it would ask Gen Prawit to write to explain the matter.
The NACC wants to know how Gen Prawit acquired the assets and whether he can provide proof, he noted. The NACC will then compare the two items with the list of assets he submitted.
The case involving Gen Prawit is special and the NACC wants him to explain the matter to the agency this time, Pol Gen Watcharapol said.
Asked if he would feel under pressure given that he formerly served as Gen Prawit’s secretary-general, Pol Gen Watcharapol insisted that he would not as the NACC was only following its normal procedures.
Asked whether he will also join the probe when the anti-graft agency takes up the case, Pol Gen Watcharapol said certain legalities need to be considered first.
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 defence minister — to more than 87 million baht in 2014 when he took up positions as deputy prime minister and defence minister during the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration.
Gen Prawit’s total salary and position allowance as deputy prime minister is about 110,000 baht while the highest salary of a four-star army general is about 76,000 baht. Gen Prawit retired from military service in 2005. He then entered politics and became defence minister in December 2008 in the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration.
Also Thursday, Gen Prawit failed to show up to attend a meeting of the national committee on mineral resources management, of which he is chairman amid speculation he wanted to avoid media questions over his luxury trinkets.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Gen Surasak Karnjanarat chaired the meeting on his behalf. Defence Ministry spokesman Khongcheep Tantravanich said Gen Prawit asked Gen Surasak to chair the meeting because he had to attend a meeting on security issues.