Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat has questioned the motive of the Election Commission (EC) for investigating his shareholding in the defunct broadcaster iTV, now that an inquiry panel has recommended it drop the case.
Writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Mr Pita said the episode was looking more and more like “intentional political persecution”.
He was responding to reports on Monday that the EC’s inquiry panel recommended the election watchdog drop the charge that Mr Pita violated Section 151 of the Election Act. That section states that a candidate who applies to run as an MP while knowing that he might be in violation of election rules — in this case, holding shares in a media company — would face disqualification.
iTV stopped broadcasting in 2007 and was delisted from the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2014. It earned a small amount of income from a subsidiary that rented broadcasting equipment and offered media support services for several years.
In the 2022 financial year, however, the company’s only reported revenue was interest income from bank deposits and bonds.
“The investigative panel has provided an important reason that iTV is not operating nor earning income from its media business. This shows that I am not at fault,” Mr Pita wrote on Facebook.
“I want to reaffirm suspicions about whether my TV shareholding case is politically motivated or not. I had held the shares in question while performing my duty as an MP for four years but complaints were only made when I became a prime ministerial candidate,” he said.
“The case was submitted to the Constitutional Court a few days before my nomination as prime minister was made in parliament. There were many pieces of disturbing evidence that attempts had been made to ‘revive’ iTV … to meet the definition of ‘media shares’.”
Mr Pita was referring to a discrepancy between a video recording of an iTV shareholders’ meeting, in which a senior executive says the company is not carrying out any media business, and published minutes of the meeting which claim it is engaged in media operations.
As the investigative committee found he was not guilty of an electoral violation, Mr Pita said he wanted to ask the EC whether the panel had made its resolution before the EC submitted its petition to the Constitutional Court.
The panel had gathered evidence and questioned witnesses and concluded that iTV was not operating as a media firm and had no income from media operations.
He also asked the EC whether its move to ask the court to suspend him from MP duty pending a ruling was fair. iTV and the telecom firm Intouch Holdings, its major shareholder, had produced financial documents that the defunct media firm had stopped broadcasting and had no income from media operations, said Mr Pita.
Citing previous media shareholding complaints against about 60 MPs in 2020, he said they were not suspended from duty pending rulings.
“But in my case, I was suspended from MP duty. I want society to consider whether the suspension is fair or not,” he wrote.
A source at the EC confirmed on Tuesday that the investigative committee found there was no clear evidence that iTV was operating and earning income at the time when Mr Pita filed his candidacy application in early April.
The committee’s findings and recommendation have been sent to the secretary-general of the Election Commission, said the source, adding that the case would then be forwarded to a sub-committee for consideration, when Mr Pita may be asked to testify.
On July 19, the Constitutional Court suspended Mr Pita from duty after accepting for consideration the EC complaint.
Mr Pita has argued that the 42,000 shares in iTV were part of his late father’s estate, which he managed as executor. He said they had since been transferred to relatives.
He had declared the holdings and explained the circumstances when he was first elected as an MP in 2019 and was told not to worry about it, he said.