Pita inches closer to PM post
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Pita inches closer to PM post

iTV 'shutdown' may save MFP chief's bid

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat meets supporters in Phuket last week. (Photo: Move Forward Party)
Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat meets supporters in Phuket last week. (Photo: Move Forward Party)

Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat's bid to become prime minister moved a step closer to reality on Monday after the chairman of a recent meeting of iTV shareholders said the media company is currently not operating pending a legal case.

As a result, Mr Pita could be spared from legal wrangles that could lead to him being disqualified as an MP if it is proven that the media company has shut down.

iTV was back in the spotlight after a video taken during the annual shareholders' meeting on April 26 contradicted the official minutes.

Clips from the footage taken by a shareholder were aired on TV Channel 3 late on Sunday night.

In the clip, a shareholder asks: "Does iTV still operate media businesses?", to which Executive Director Kim Siritaweechai, who chaired the meeting, replies: "As of now, the firm doesn't do anything. It has to wait for a legal case to end."

Controversy has swirled around alleged attempts to "revive" iTV to block Mr Pita's bid to become prime minister through his shareholding in the media company.

Chairman of the Election Commission (EC) Ittiporn Boonpracong said on Monday the poll agency is already looking into whether Mr Pita violated Section 151 of the organic law on the election of MPs.

On Friday, the EC threw out all complaints related to media share ownership against the MFP leader but will instead investigate whether Mr Pita applied to be a list-MP candidate knowing he might not have been eligible.

That would be considered a violation of Section 42(3) and Section 151 of the organic law on the election of MPs.

If found guilty, Mr Pita faces up to 10 years in prison, along with a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 baht, and a ban from taking part in elections for up to 20 years.

On Sunday, a source said that four recent petitions along with a request to dissolve the MFP have already been dismissed as groundless by the EC while the eight-party coalition led by the MFP goes about forming a new government.

Mr Kim, also president and executive director of Intouch Holdings Plc, which is a majority shareholder in iTV, on Monday ordered iTV committee members to launch an investigation into the minutes of the shareholders' meeting.

MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon said the remarks in the video clip contradicted the minutes of the meeting, which he said he suspected may have been falsified.

Executives of iTV must provide a clarification, he said, adding that efforts are being made to block the MFP's bid to form a government.

Writing on Facebook, MFP MP-elect Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said he would step up calls for the broadcaster to make a statement on the matter, having earlier cast doubt on the accuracy of the minutes.

"iTV must clarify why the minutes of its annual shareholders' meeting did not match the answer given by the chairman at the event.

"Society must ask whether this amounts to falsifying the minutes of the shareholders' meeting to persecute another person politically and whether those responsible should face criminal charges, Mr Wiroj wrote.

Last week, Mr Pita said he had already transferred the 42,000 shares he inherited from his father, who died in 2006, to relatives to pre-empt any attempt to use them as political ammunition.

He said he was confident there was nothing to disqualify him from serving as an MP or becoming prime minister of a coalition government.

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.

The company was delisted from the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2014.

However, its business registration remained active because it is still embroiled in a legal dispute with the government over unpaid concession fees.

On May 10, political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana petitioned the poll agency to investigate.

Under the current constitution, individuals with media holdings are barred from running for office.

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