NACC to charge PM over rice
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NACC to charge PM over rice

Govt's fiscal status 'sufficient for loans'

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is expected to bring formal charges against caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for her role in the rice-pledging scheme later this month.

NACC deputy secretary-general Witthaya Akhompitak said on Tuesday that an inquiry panel is expected to conclude the case and bring charges against the premier. An NACC inquiry panel is currently obtaining more evidence to substantiate its case, he said.

Mr Witthaya said the NACC will also question unpaid rice farmers who have asked them to investigate the prime minister and the government.

He said if the panel finds there is enough evidence, Ms Yingluck would face charges of violating Section 157 of the Criminal Code for dereliction of duty. If she is charged, the premier will be given an opportunity to defend herself before the panel forwards the case to the main NACC panel, who would then decide whether to indict her.

If the main NACC panel decides to indict her and take the case to court, she would be required to step down from all official roles.

On Jan 16, the NACC agreed to launch an inquiry into the role of Ms Yingluck when a panel decided to bring formal corruption charges against 15 people involved in government-to-government rice deals, including former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and former deputy commerce minister Poom Sarapol.

The premier will face criminal charges if the investigation finds that she was negligent in her duties as chairwoman of the National Rice Policy Committee, which oversees the scheme.

Commissioner Vicha Mahakhun previously said the NACC agreed that the case against Ms Yingluck concerned a government policy issue.

He said the inquiry panel has grounds to believe Ms Yingluck may have learnt about problems affecting the rice scheme, but failed to stop them.

Ms Yingluck said the caretaker government is not broke and plans to pay the farmers for their pledged rice. The caretaker government's fiscal status is sufficient to seek loans from financial institutions, and all farmers with invoices for pledged rice will definitely get their money, she said.

Ms Yingluck said rice payments were being delayed by legal limitations and processing procedures.

Responding to allegations of corruption in the rice scheme, Ms Yingluck said agencies concerned were investigating whether there were any irregularities.

She denied claims she had refused to meet the farmers rallying in front of the Ministry of Commerce on Monday.

Ms Yingluck said she had directed the relevant ministers to explain the situation to the farmers because they knew all the details concerning the rice scheme's implementation.

Caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said several commercial banks have expressed interest in providing loans to the caretaker government to pay the farmers.

Asked whether he is ready to sign loan agreements if the government has managed to secure loans, Mr Kittiratt said that if the loans are permissible by law and the lenders are no longer worried about any legal problems, the Finance Ministry is duty-bound to comply with a cabinet resolution on the matter.

The minister said the Election Commission had agreed that the caretaker administration has the authority to acquire loans for its rice scheme and that it would not be a violation of Section 181 of the charter.

Caretaker Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan said Tuesday's cabinet meeting approved a central budget of 712 million baht to pay a total of 3,921 undocumented farmers under the rice scheme. The budget will be forwarded to the EC for endorsement in the next few days.

Mr Niwatthamrong said he had instructed the Internal Trade Department to take farmers' representatives to inspect rice warehouses to dispel any suspicions that the warehouses are empty as alleged.

Dej-udom Krairit, chairman of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said he advised farmers not to raid government rice warehouses, which would constitute a violation of the law.

The council will represent them in seeking a court order to inspect the warehouses. He also said the council has taken up the cases filed against the government as fraud cases and lawyers are trying to speed them up.

“At least 41 defendants are named in the case, including Ms Yingluck. But I don’t know how long it will take before the ruling is delivered,” he said.

Mr Dej-udom said that 20 million baht raised by anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is enough to pay for the legal procedures, adding that he is checking if the case matches the criteria of a consumer protection dispute. If it does then court-related expenditure will be exempt.

Kittisak Rattanawaraha, a farmer leader from the North, said farmers will hold a major rally in Bangkok tomorrow, with a higher turnout expected.

Rawee Rungruang, leader of rice farmers in western provinces, said farmers will continue to camp at the Commerce Ministry, although they will not obstruct the work of officials, especially tomorrow when the bidding for 400,000 tonnes of rice from government stocks will be held at the Foreign Trade Department.

About 220,000 tonnes of rice will also be auctioned through the Agricultural Futures Exchange in Thailand today, Mr Rawee said. He added that farmers will travel to the NACC today to hand in information about their overdue payments. 

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