Prayut denies UTN-Chuvit link

Prayut denies UTN-Chuvit link

PM says ties with Bhumjaithai leader Anutin 'strong' despite claim

Chuvit Kamolvisit protests on Tuesday against Bhumjaithai's cannabis policy. (TV screen capture)
Chuvit Kamolvisit protests on Tuesday against Bhumjaithai's cannabis policy. (TV screen capture)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a core figure of the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party, on Tuesday denied his party was pulling strings behind former massage parlour tycoon Chuvit Kamolvisit's campaign against the Bhumjaithai Party.

"It has nothing to do with me. I'm the prime minister, and I have to maintain a relationship with the coalition government. We've worked together for four years.

"As for political work, I've made it clear to the party that we won't interfere with other political parties. We must keep our integrity and do everything by the rules," he said.

Gen Prayut was responding to reporters' questions about an observation that Mr Chuvit's crusade against Bhumjtaithai was politically motivated, with some suggesting the UTN was the prime suspect.

The suspected tie between the tycoon-turned-whistleblower and the UTN appeared to be drawn from Mr Chuvit's relationship with Himalai Phewpan, a former military officer who is a coordinator of the UTN.

Last week Mr Chuvit turned up at Government House to call on the government to look into alleged irregularities in some government projects overseen by coalition parties.

One of the issues he raised involved alleged irregularities in the bidding for the Orange Line electric train project overseen by the Transport Ministry under Bhumjaithai's Saksayam Chidchob. Mr Chuvit alleged that 30 billion baht had been siphoned off from the project, but did not elaborate.

He was welcomed by Mr Himalai and met Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, secretary-general to the prime minister and leader of the UTN, in front of Command Building 1.

The meeting drew attention from some media outlets as Mr Himalai, a former military officer, and Mr Chuvit have known each other for years. Both were convicted and sentenced to two years for their role in the demolition of bars and shops on the Sukhumvit Square night strip in 2003.

Two days after Mr Chuvit's trip to Government House, Public Health Minister and Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul said efforts were seemingly being made to discredit his party.

Yesterday Mr Chuvit turned up in front of Government House again with a group of six pupils to stage a symbolic protest against Bhumjaithai's cannabis policy.

He said he was not opposed to the cannabis policy, but rather the lack of effective regulations to protect children from abuse and easy access to cannabis products.

He also vowed to go on tour nationwide, including Buri Ram, the political stronghold of Bhumjaithai, to explain the cannabis policy so voters could make informed decisions at the coming general election.

Mr Chuvit said voters who disagreed with Bhumjaithai's cannabis policy should vote for other parties.

His move came after public health authorities inspected a cannabis shop located at the Davis Bangkok Hotel owned by Mr Chuvit on Monday.

In a video clip, Mr Chuvit, who was clearly annoyed by the inspection, announced that he would campaign against the Bhumjaithai Party.

Mr Anutin yesterday refused to engage in a war of words with Mr Chuvit, but said that Mr Chuvit's campaign was politically motivated, and he was aware of who was pulling the strings.

The Bhumjaithai leader also played down speculation Mr Chuvit's crusade would deal a blow to the party's election campaign, saying he believed the public could see through it.

Mr Anutin insisted he did not order the inspection of the cannabis shop at the hotel.

PM's Office Minister and UTN member Thanakorn Wangboonkong­chana yesterday strongly denied any connections between the party and Mr Chuvit's attack on Bhumjaithai.

According to Mr Thanakorn, the relationship between Gen Prayut and Mr Anutin remained strong, and both men respected each other.

Meanwhile, Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, chief of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, said the move was simply part of the monthly cannabis shop inspections, and it was not unfairly aimed at Mr Chuvit.

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