Govt takes flak over Thamanat

Govt takes flak over Thamanat

No mask trade talks, says deputy minister

Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow at the parliament in Bangkok on Monday. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow at the parliament in Bangkok on Monday. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The government has come under fire after Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow admitted on Monday that his assistant had met a man who was said to be hoarding face masks, but he denied they discussed the mask trade.

Capt Thamanat was responding to a report on Facebook alleging that his close aide had a hoard of 200 million medical masks for resale to China.

Palang Pracharath MP Sira Jenjaka on Monday called on Capt Thamanat to resign in order to fix the image of the government. That call was echoed across the floor by deputy Democrat leader Nipit Intarasombat and Democrat MP Panit Wikitset.

Capt Thamanat said on his Facebook page there was a man hoarding masks for sale, but he had no connection with the man. Capt Thamanat did not name the man.

He said his close aide Pittinant Rak-iad was advised by a friend to meet the man at the Marriott Hotel in the Pratunam area to discuss a matter involving masks, but they did not make a deal to trade in any masks, Capt Thamanat wrote.

Mr Pittinant had not known the man and it was their first meeting, the deputy agriculture minister said. He had instructed Mr Pittinant to ask police to take action against the man.

Mr Pittinant said in his complaint filed with police later that he only took a photo together with the man.

Capt Thamanat said that if Mr Pittinant were to be involved in any such offence, he would support his prosecution.

He also said the story was an attempt to discredit him and seek his removal from the cabinet.

Reporters asked Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to comment on the issue, but he remained tight-lipped.

Meanwhile, Sornsuvee "Boy" Pooraveenasawatchari, who was pictured meeting Mr Pittinant in the hotel, told crime suppression police in Chon Buri province on Monday afternoon he had not stocked any face masks.

Asked about a clip he posted showing himself with a large inventory of face masks, he said he did not know to whom they belonged.

"I just wanted to show off I had found much sought-after masks since the product is in short supply. No one can find them. I found them but didn't have the money to buy them, so I posted [the clip] on Facebook."

He apologised for creating a misunderstanding.

When reporters asked who the masks belonged to, Mr Sornsuvee said: "No one. I've never seen them. I don't know who the owner is. I know nothing."

His lawyer said: "Khun Boy is an online trader. He did not have the products. He's just a middleman and doesn't stock anything."

Earlier, Mr Sornsuvee's Facebook posts and video clips were copied by Mam Pho Dam, a popular independent investigator of current affairs on the platform, who claimed to know why the products could not be found in the Thai market.

Mam Pho Dam claimed all the posts she captured were from Mr Sornsuvee, who boasted of having 200 million masks. His Facebook was later closed.

A post at 12.15am on his Facebook on Monday read: "Five million pieces available tomorrow at 14 baht each. For hospital and medical use. Minimum order 1 million pieces. You can show [proof of] your financial position or bring Chinese buyers. Brokers with no readily available money need not waste their time. Hurry. Price is not high for three-ply products. Goods are with my team." He also added the hashtag #WorkAsTeam.

The post also shows two photos of opened cases filled with green boxes containing 50 pieces each and a few samples on top. A label on one of the cases partially shows what appeared to be "Made in Thailand" and the name of a local manufacturer.

A clip in early February shows several cases being loaded on a truck with Mr Sornsuvee supervising the process. He was heard in the clip saying he was filling orders to China and giving an assurance he had plenty of products for sale to "anyone who has the money".

Another post shows a photo of Mr Sornsuvee and Mr Pittinant at a hotel with a Chinese merchant.

Although authorities have said they have distributed face masks in adequate numbers to hospitals, medical workers insist the shortages at their facilities persist, while the pharmacies' trade group issued a statement saying they had never received them.

Customs officials on Monday seized more than 56,000 masks allegedly smuggled by a Vietnam businessman into Mukdahan for sale in Thailand. The products were hidden among bags of bus passengers travelling from Lao province of Savannakhet to Mukdahan in the Northeast.


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