The Election Commission (EC) says it is still considering whether to accept a complaint filed against Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat over his shareholding in a media company.
Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said on Wednesday that the commission had not yet decided whether there are grounds for the allegation and whether an inquiry panel should be set up.
On May 10, political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana petitioned the poll agency to investigate Mr Pita over 42,000 shares he held in iTV, an independent broadcaster founded in the 1990s that went off the air in 2007.
Mr Ruangkrai is a prolific petitioner, best known for bringing a complaint against then-prime minister Samak Sundaravej in 2008 for conflict of interest because he accepted a small sum for hosting a TV cooking show. The Constitutional Court agreed and Samak had to leave office.
Under the current constitution, an election candidate is barred from running for office if he or she owns shares in a media company.
Mr Pita said on Wednesday that he was waiting for details from the EC, and he did not think there would be any political accident undermining his bid to become the next prime minister.
A source at the EC said that under the election law, any complaint regarding a lack of qualifications for office should be filed within seven days after the EC announces the list of registered candidates.
The complaint against Mr Pita was filed just four days before the election, so the EC had no time to investigate as it was busy organising the polls, the source said.
The investigation will start after the poll results are endorsed, the source said, adding that if the EC finds sufficient grounds to the allegation, it will forward the case to the Constitutional Court.
Mr Ittiporn said on the weekend that 95% of the MPs-elect would be endorsed well ahead of the 60-day deadline in mid-July.
Mr Pita said on Tuesday that he had recently transferred the iTV shares, held in the estate of his late father who died in 2006, to his relatives to ensure he could be the next prime minister amid attempts to block him from taking office.
Pita sees a plot
In a Facebook post he said that attempts were being made to revive iTV as a “mass media” organisation in a bid to attack him.
He said that in its 2018-19 financial statement, iTV was defined as a holding company, but in the two following financial statements, it was labelled a TV organisation.
iTV stopped broadcasting in 2007 and its licence was taken over by Thai PBS. It was delisted from the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2014. It has not had any income from media activity for several years, beyond small sums from a subsidiary that rented out broadcasting equipment. Its business registration remains active only because litigation over its concession fees is not yet concluded.
Mr Pita noted, however, that at an iTV shareholders’ meeting on April 26, one shareholder asked if it was a media organisation. “Was the question politically motivated?” the Move Forward leader wrote on Facebook.
His family concluded he should transfer the shares in case there were “attempts to revive iTV as a media organisation”, Mr Pita wrote.
The largest current shareholder of iTV is Intouch Holdings Plc, the parent company of the mobile operator Advanced Info Service, founded by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Intouch holds 638.6 million iTV shares worth 3.2 billion baht at par value.
The major shareholder of Intouch is Gulf Energy Development Plc. Gulf CEO Sarath Ratanavadi is the country’s fourth richest person with a net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
Mr Sarath has good relations with a number of government ministers. Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the caretaker Digital Economy and Society Minister, is a former executive of Gulf.
Nareuwat Noppakhun, the head of the accounting department at Intouch, prepared and submitted the financial statements of iTV to the Department of Business Development between 2015 and 2022, Isara News Agency reported.
In the 2018-19 financial year, iTV was described as taking part in “activities of a holding company that does not primarily invest in financial business”. In 2020-21, “television media” was listed in the product/service section, with the note: "currently not operating due to litigation”.
In fiscal 2022, the products/services section listed “advertising media and return on investment”.
Mr Nareuwat declined to comment when contacted by Isara about how the company’s business was described in the statements.