Constitutional Court disbands FFP

Constitutional Court disbands FFP

Execs barred from politics for 10 years

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (third from left) leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, addresses supporters following the Constitutional Court's ruling which also bans the party's executives from politics for 10 years. (Photos by Chanat Katanyu)
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (third from left) leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, addresses supporters following the Constitutional Court's ruling which also bans the party's executives from politics for 10 years. (Photos by Chanat Katanyu)

The Constitutional Court has dissolved the Future Forward Party (FFP) and banned its executives from politics for 10 years for accepting 191.2 million baht from an illegitimate source.

The court ordered the dissolution of the party and that its executives be banned from politics for 10 years, in a 7:2 vote.

The court decided the money leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit lent to the party was considered "other benefits" under Section 66 of the Political Parties Act, which limits donations to 10 million baht per donor per year.

The court said the EC could now proceed with criminal action against Mr Thanathorn and 15 other party executives, including secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and spokesperson Pannika Wanich.

If convicted, Mr Thanathorn could be jailed for up to five years and the other executives for up to three years.

The loan money in excess of 10 million baht, or 181.3 million baht, will also be seized and placed in the Political Party Development Fund.

The court, which took less than an hour to read the ruling, began by ruling that the Election Commission, the petitioner in this case, was empowered to take action when an offence is flagrant without having to wait for anyone to ask it to do so or having to let the offender know the charge first since its procedures are different from those of a court.

The explanation dismissed the party's earlier argument that it had not been informed the EC would charge it under Section 92 for receiving gains from illegitimate sources, the penalty for which is party dissolution.

The court insisted that it took 71 days to consider the case, meaning that it had not rushed to a verdict.

The court went on to explain that the intention of several laws which limit the sources of income a party can receive are to prevent anyone with financial advantages from wielding influence over or controlling a party.

On the issue of whether a loan is a donation, the court said a party is a public organisation so what is not allowed in the law was prohibited.

The FFP earlier argued a party is a juristic person, not a public organisation that must be endorsed by law. As a result, the rule of "everything that is not prohibited is allowed" applies to it, unlike the concept of "everything that is not allowed is forbidden" applicable to public authorities -- a concept enshrined in law to limit state power.

The court said since the party accepted income from a source other than those listed under Section 66 on donations, the party executives should have known it was "other income" which can influence a party against the intention of the law.

The court also noted irregularities in the loans. It pointed out the loans carried interest rates that were lower than market rates which offered privileges to the party and the second loan was extended even when the party had yet to repay the first.

Besides, the party took out the second loan even though it was only 1 million baht in the red in its balance sheets. In addition, the party repaid 14 million baht to the lender within two days of borrowing it.

"This is unusual," the court said.

In the court's view, the lending allowed the lender to have influence over the party and made the party a "political business", while the actions indicate it was not normal borrowing and was more an attempt to evade the limit on donations under Section 66 at the expense of other parties.

By establishing the party and its executives violating the donation limit, the court concluded the money was from an illegitimate source under Section 94, which required the party's dissolution.

The party and academics had said earlier that the real spirit and intent of Section 94 was to prevent parties from using ill-gotten gains such as from robberies and human or drug trafficking.

Since the enactment of Thailand's first political parties law in 1998, the Constitutional Court has disbanded 110 parties, including the FFP.

In the first nine years, dissolved parties were found to have violated the law on technical issues. The first major case that had political repercussions was the disbandment of the Thai Rak Thai Party led by Thaksin Shinawatra in 2007.

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