Suthep faces trial for graft

Suthep faces trial for graft

NACC also pursuing Virat over futsal cash

Suthep: Faces two possible charges
Suthep: Faces two possible charges

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) concluded on Tuesday there were grounds to prosecute former protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban over the construction of police stations and living accommodation he oversaw eight years ago as well as a key government MP, his wife and her sister over the futsal fields project.

Mr Suthep, a founder of the Action Coalition for Thailand Party, which is a government coalition partner, faces two possible indictments over two projects.

One project relates to the construction of 396 police stations worth 5.84 billion baht, which was endorsed in 2011 by the Abhisit Vejjajiva cabinet under which Mr Suthep served as deputy prime minister.

Many of the police stations were left unfinished when the lone contractor, responsible for hundreds of construction sites, allegedly dumped the project.

The NACC also found grounds to prosecute Mr Suthep over the construction of 163 blocks of police flats, for which the same firm was contracted. Construction here also suffered delays, causing financial damage to the government.

Mr Suthep -- who led the defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee protest against the Pheu Thai-led administration between late 2013 and early 2014 -- was accused of failing to consult fellow ministers on changes made to the construction contracts. He also allegedly granted a private company the sole construction rights for the vast projects, instead of splitting contracts among different firms.

Two groups of high-ranking policemen were investigated by the NACC who found at least eight officers had colluded or had knowledge in the police station project and a further eight officers in the police flat project.

Both groups face either severe disciplinary action or criminal charges, or both, in connection with the projects, according to the NACC.

Also on Tuesday, the NACC found grounds to the allegation that government chief whip Virat Ratanasate and his wife colluded in a graft-ridden deal to construct futsal fields in at least five schools in Nakhon Ratchasima.

NACC secretary-general Warawit Sukboon said all nine commissioners agreed there were grounds to charge Mr Virat, his wife, Thassaneeya, her sister, Thassanaporn Ketmetheekarun, as well as 21 other people.

The commission uncovered evidence that politicians and local state officials had colluded to siphon off budget disbursed from the MPs fund to the futsal field project.

Mr Virat was accused of diverting funds meant for repairs at local schools to futsal field construction. The alleged graft took place when Mr Virat was serving as Pheu Thai Party MP for Nakhon Ratchasima in 2012.

The NACC also said the project was unnecessary. The commission has now forwarded the case to prosecutors.

Mr Warawit insisted the NACC was confident it had solid evidence to prosecute Mr Virat and the accomplices.

He said the NACC was unperturbed by Mr Virat's threat to take the commissioners to court.

Mr Virat, now a party-list MP for the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, said on Tuesday he had written to the NACC to repudiate its decision.

He argued that the commission had relied primarily on a single accounting document, which identified Pheu Thai, the Democrats, the Bhumjaithai and the Chartpattana parties as recipients of the MP fund. Mr Virat said he was listed on the document as a recipient of 300 million baht, but had never received the money.

He queried whether the NACC had ever asked the House committee on budget expenditure whether he had actually collected the budget.

Thossapol Pengsom, Mr Virat's lawyer, said his team was preparing to take legal action against the NACC for failing to properly check the accounting document, which he said was missing signatures from those with authority over budget disbursement.

In the cases of Mr Virat, his wife and her sister, if the prosecutor recommends the suspects' indictment and the court accepts the cases, they will be suspended as MPs. Ms Thassaneeya and Ms Thassanaporn are both constituency MPs for Nakhon Ratchasima.

They will be barred from voting in parliament for the duration of the trial, putting the government, which already holds a wafer-thin majority in an even more precarious state.

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