Prosecutors yesterday indicted chief government whip Wirach Ratanasate, his wife and 85 others for graft in connection with the construction of futsal fields in Nakhon Ratchasima in the 2012 fiscal year.
Mr Wirach, also a list MP of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, and the other suspects, were indicted in the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions yesterday morning.
Prayuth Phetkhun, deputy spokesman of the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG), said Mr Wirach and his wife, Thassaneeya, who is also an MP, failed to attend the indictment hearing in court yesterday, citing their preoccupation with parliamentary duties.
Three other suspects also requested not to attend the hearing on grounds of the Covid-19 pandemic situation, although none have contracted the virus.
The prosecutors rejected the reasons for their failure to attend.
The 87 suspects face varying charges including corruption, setting bidding conditions to prevent fair competition and violating the law on tender bidding.
The court will schedule a date for convening an assembly meeting to select nine senior judges to sit on a panel handling the case.
The panel will decide whether to accept the prosecutors' indictment and if the suspects who are political post holders are to be suspended from duty pending trial.
Mr Wirach was accused by the prosecutors of siphoning money from an Education Ministry budget for school repairs to fund a futsal field project in Nakhon Ratchasima, his constituency.
The futsal controversy dates back to the 2012 fiscal year, during the Yingluck Shinawatra government.
Irregularities were found two years later, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) then took up the case.
State auditors in- spected a futsal pitch at Ban Lum Khao School in Non Sung district of Nakhon Ratchasima on Nov 3, 2014, and found it substandard.
In 2019, the NACC decided to charge Mr Wirach, his wife Thassaneeya, her sister Thassanaporn Ketmetheekarun and about two dozen other people for alleged irregularities in the project.
It was part of a 4.4-billion-baht budget for the construction of 56 futsal pitches in Nakhon Ratchasima and 18 other provinces.
Mr Wirach and the others were accused of engaging in policy-oriented corruption by unlawfully interfering in budget matters and diverting funds meant for school repairs for the construction of futsal courts in Nakhon Ratchasima, the NACC said in August 2019.