Army denies graft in helicopter purchases

Army denies graft in helicopter purchases

Activist plans petition over 'inflated prices'

An AgustaWestland AW139 in Royal Thai Army livery, seen here at Khon Kaen in May of 2016, was one of several purchased by the army under then-commander Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Creative Commons via Wikimedia)
An AgustaWestland AW139 in Royal Thai Army livery, seen here at Khon Kaen in May of 2016, was one of several purchased by the army under then-commander Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

Activist Srisuwan Janya has insisted he will petition the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) today to investigate the army's procurement of Italian-made helicopters at prices he believes were inflated.

He said Thursday the fatal helicopter crash in Leicester, England, which killed billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha on Saturday had drawn his attention to the army's purchases of similar models of helicopters.

The crashed helicopter was of the AgustaWestland AW169 model, which costs around 280 million baht, he said.

The army had purchased older models of the AgustaWestland AW helicopter at prices higher than that of Vichai's helicopter and the listed market price of the same model, according to Mr Srisuwan.

In his research of the army's past purchases of the AgustaWestland AW, he said he found about 12 helicopters of the AW139 and AW149 model were purchased on several occasions.

In 2012, when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was army chief, for instance, he said, two AW139 helicopters were purchased for 1.35 billion baht, or 675 million baht each, said Mr Srisuwan.

According to Mr Srisuwan, the average market price of the AW139 model is only about 396 million baht.

He questioned why the army paid up to 558 million baht more than the average market price for the AW139 helicopter during its purchase in 2012.

After the military coup in 2014, two more AW139 helicopters were procured by the army for 1.47 billion baht, or about 737 million baht each, he said.

The price difference for this purchase of the two helicopters was up 692 million baht (combined) when compared with the market price of the AW139 helicopter.

Between 2016 and 2017, six more AW139 helicopters were bought and, in 2017, an additional two AW149 helicopters were also procured, he said.

About half of these helicopters were thought to be grounded, which sparked criticism on social media recently as to why the army did not put the new helicopters to use, he said.

Meanwhile, army spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree said the higher prices paid by the army for the Agusta Westland AW helicopters also included the cost of simulation training for the pilots in each new model purchased, spare parts, and training for the army's mechanics.

The 280 million baht price of Vichai's helicopter that Mr Srisuwan was citing was apparently the price for the helicopter, while pilots were hired and maintenance services were possibly paid for separately, said Col Winthai.

And the 280 million baht Mr Srisuwan cited was not the official price but a price reported by the media.

He said Mr Srisuwan should have not compared the prices of different models of the helicopter.

To clear up doubts over the army's helicopter purchases, an army team was gathering information and the force would explain everything there was to know to counter Mr Srisuwan's accusations, said Col Winthai.

The army's purchase of new helicopter models together with additional systems is standard protocol adopted by every armed force, said the source.

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