EC defends move to have FFP disbanded

EC defends move to have FFP disbanded

Criminal case on loans not yet finalised, earlier party dissolution bid just response to 'blatant act'

Future Forward secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul shows one of the leaked documents alleged from the EC showing how two panels decided to drop the case against the party at Parliament on Friday. (Future Forward Party photo)
Future Forward secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul shows one of the leaked documents alleged from the EC showing how two panels decided to drop the case against the party at Parliament on Friday. (Future Forward Party photo)

The Election Commission has hit back at the Future Forward Party, which on Friday showed leaked documents which the EC claimed were confidential.

The EC has also threatened to take legal action against those who publicised the documents. 

The papers relate to the case in which activist Srisuwan Janya accused the FFP of breaking the Political Parties Act because its leader lent it 191 million baht when the law caps donations to a party at 10 million baht per person per year.

The documents provide details on the decisions of two EC panels and of a subcommittee assigned to handle the case. The two panels recommended the EC drop the case. The subcommittee recommended that it proceed and send the case to the Constitutional Court.

FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul on Friday accused the EC of being “overzealous” in trying to have his party disbanded even though its own panels disagreed with the prosecution.

The EC on Saturday denied the accusation. It explained that the documents involved a criminal case against the party that has not yet been finalised.

“A case normally goes through four steps — an investigation and inquiry panel, the secretary-general, a ruling subcommittee, and the EC commissioners,” the EC said in a statement. “In this case, the subcommittee has already ruled on the case and it is now being considered by the EC commissioners.

“The decisions made at each step are independent of one another and they are not binding on the EC commissioners.”

In recommending that the Constitutional Court disband the FFP even though it had yet to finish preparing the criminal case against the party, the EC said it acted on a provision covering “blatant acts”.

The political parties registrar believed it was clear the party had violated a law because it accepted money from an “illegitimate source” (Section 72 of the Political Parties Act), hence its move to ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve it. 

Mr Piyabutr, speaking at Parliament on Friday, claimed the leaked documents were proof the EC had not followed procedures and had rushed the case the court. 

The EC accepted a petition that the FFP might have breached Section 66 of the Political Parties Act when leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit lent the party more than 10 million baht in a single year. The punishment for the offence is imprisonment up to five years and/or a fine up to 100,000 baht for party executives. The party may also be fined up to 1 million baht and the leader and executives may see their election rights revoked for five years.

Mr Piyabutr said the EC had assigned a panel to investigate the case. It later agreed unanimously that the case should be dropped because loans were not income and a party, as a juristic person, can borrow as seen in several cases in the past.

The EC assigned another panel which came up with the same opinions for similar reasons.

The EC then set up a subcommittee “for the sake of prudence” and three of the five members decided the FFP violated Section 66 and suggested that the case be sent to the Constitution Court to revoke the right of the FFP executives and leader for five years and confiscated all borrowings in excess of 10 million baht.

According to Mr Piyabutr, the commissioners later voted 5-2 to send the case to the Constitutional Court for violating Sections 62 and 66 but added another offence under Section 72 — accepting money from an illegitimate source — for which the penalty is party dissolution.

He argued that the EC could not add a new offence without informing the party first. It should have begun a fresh investigation instead of bundling the new charge with the existing ones.

He said he would ask the Constitutional Court to open an inquiry and summon witnesses and evidence to look into the accusation.

The party has already filed a malfeasance case against the EC commissioners with the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases, he added.

The FFP is currently preparing its defence to submit to the Constitutional Court in the loan case. However, of more immediate concern for the party is a ruling scheduled for Jan 21 in another case.

It is based on a complaint filed by Natthaporn Toprayoon, a lawyer and former adviser to the chief ombudsman. He accused the party of conspiring to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, among other allegations. If the court upholds the complaint, the party could be dissolved.

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