NACC in crosshairs over watch scandal

NACC in crosshairs over watch scandal

The national anti-graft agency has come under fire over its stance on the luxury watch collection of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, with doubts being raised over whether it is trying to whitewash the scandal.

Criticism has grown since National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said at a news briefing on Wednesday that Gen Prawit did not have to declare assets which do not belong to him.

He was referring to 25 luxury watches worth a total of 39.5 million baht that Gen Prawit was spotted wearing but did not declare among his assets to the NACC.

Gen Prawit claims they all belonged to friends and have since been returned.

Poramet Intharachumnum, deputy director-general of the Department of the Attorney General’s Decision, questioned the graftbusting agency’s stance on his Facebook page yesterday.

“Next we will see senior state officials and politicians claim their luxury cars or houses don’t belong to them but to their friends,” he wrote, adding the NACC is opening a loophole for people guilty of graft to exploit.

“Things that are borrowed can also be considered a ‘benefit’ and their value can be calculated like money,” he said.

“If their total value is higher than 3,000 baht then that would be illegal,” he added.

State officials and holders of political positions are banned from giving or receiving gifts in excess of this amount, or it could be considered graft.

The Pheu Thai Party also slammed the NACC yesterday.

Even though NACC president Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit has offered to step aside from the watch probe given his close personal ties with Gen Prawit, this is not enough to convince the public the NACC can be trusted to conduct a fair and transparent investigation, according to Phumtham Wechayachai, the party’s acting secretary-general.

Mr Phumtham accused the agency of trying to stall its inquiry to “buy time” for the deputy prime minister.

Another member of the party, Watana Muangsook, claimed the NACC’s secretary-general was trying to protect Gen Prawit’s interests.

He said Mr Worawit was acting as though he were both a personal spokesman and lawyer for the deputy premier.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has dismissed the watch scandal as “a private matter”, a move Mr Worawit considered strange given that the premier has used the vast power granted him by Section 44 of the interim charter to suspend other officials who faced corruption charges.

Meanwhile, a recent poll found that almost 80% of respondents did not view the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) as a transparent body.

According to yesterday’s Nida poll, 76% of those surveyed believed there were “irregularities” in how the military regime and Gen Prayut’s government conduct themselves.

Only 17% had confidence in its transparency. The other 7% declined to answer.

Around half of respondents doubted the NACC was willing to conduct a genuine investigation into such high-ranking politicians.

Another poll of 1,250 people this week found that 43% of those sampled did not believe the NACC was impartial.

Half were critical of the NACC for its delays in scrutinising the government and NCPO while 35.5% thought it was just doing its job.

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