Court jails Chonsawat for 18 months
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Court jails Chonsawat for 18 months

Supporters gasp assentence is read out

Chonsawat Asavahame, son of a convicted murderer and member of a celebrity-politician family that controls Samut Prakan province, went off to prison for 18 months for 1999 election tampering. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
Chonsawat Asavahame, son of a convicted murderer and member of a celebrity-politician family that controls Samut Prakan province, went off to prison for 18 months for 1999 election tampering. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

Chonsawat Asavahame, the suspended chairman of Samut Prakan Provincial Administration Organisation (PAO), has been sent to jail after the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld an 18-month-jail sentence against him for dereliction of duty during the fraud-tainted 1999 municipal elections in Samut Prakan. 

The Supreme Court declined to suspend the sentence and refused bail. The ruling was read out by the Samut Prakan provincial court.

Chonsawat was immediately taken by Corrections Department officials to the Samut Prakan central prison, amid shocked cries from his supporters.

The court also upheld a three-year jail term against deputy Samut Prakan PAO chairman Pitichart Traisurat for document forgery in the case.

The court rulings ended a long-running court battle which has raged for 16 years. 

Chonsawat, the son of fugitive politician and influential Samut Prakan figure Vatana Asavahame, arrived Tuesday at the Samut Prakan provincial court to hear the ruling, with many reporters waiting outside.

Chonsawat and Pitichart had previously postponed their attendance at court several times.

On June 22, Chonsawat showed up at the court, but Pitichart did not, citing health problems.

However, Pitichart did not submit a medical certificate as required, prompting the court to issue an arrest warrant for him.

Pitichart failed to show again for Tuesday's hearing.

Two rival groups contested the Samut Prakan municipal council election on May 2, 1999.

One group, Pak Nam 2000, belonged to Chonsawat and the other group calling itself Muang Samut was led by Prasant Silpipat.

During the election, a man was caught on TV putting false ballot cards into a ballot box, prompting Mr Prasant to ask police to launch an investigation into the alleged poll fraud.

On Oct, 24, 2002, prosecutors took up the case, and accused Chonsawat and Pitichart of dereliction of duty in violation of the Criminal Code and the municipal council election law.

Prosecutors said their actions harmed other candidates' chances in the election and resulted in the poll being unfair and unjust.

The pair denied the accusations.

See below: Trials and tribulations of a high-flyer

At the time, Chonsawat was acting mayor of Samut Prakan and Pitichart was Samut Prakan municipal clerk.

In September 2006, the Samut Prakan provincial court sentenced Chonsawat to four years in jail for dereliction of duty and sentenced Pitichart to six years in jail for forging documents in the case.

The court also revoked their voting rights for four years.

The pair appealed. The Appeals Court upheld the lower court's rulings, but cut Chonsawat's sentence to one year and six months in jail and reduced Pitichart's jail term to three years.

Chonsawat ran for office as Samut Prakan PAO chairman and became chairman in 2011, but the National Council for Peace and Order suspended him in June this year due to suspected irregularities in the province's budget spending.

His father Vatana, a former deputy interior minister, fled the country before the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office-Holders sentenced him in 2008 to 10 years in prison after finding him guilty of corruption in the Klong Dan wastewater treatment project.

Vatana's current whereabouts abroad are not known. 

Corrections Department director-general Witthaya Suriyawong said Chonsawat has now started his sentence in Samut Prakan central prison.

Chamroen Waraporn, Chonsawat's lawyer, said after the decision that Chonsawat has to serve part of his jail term before the legal team will look at whether it is possible to seek a royal pardon.

A source at the Samut Prakan prison said Chonsawat looked agitated and nervous after arriving at the jail.

Prison officials were briefing him on rules and regulations and ways to adjust to prison life.

Trials and tribulations of a high-flyer

Chonsawat Asavahame is the youngest of three sons of former veteran politician Vatana Asavahame, who has held several cabinet positions, such as deputy industry minister, deputy interior minister and PM's Office Minister.

Vatana was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail for abuse of power and criminal coercion in connection with the Klong Dan waste water treatment facility in Bang Bo district of Samut Prakan. He is currently on the run abroad.

Before turning to politics, Chonsawat was a racing car driver and won several competitions. He reportedly owns dozens of luxury cars.

The former head of the Samut Prakan Provincial Administration Organisation, Chonsawat married singer Nantida Kaewbuasai. They had a daughter before getting divorced.

Chonsawat later married Janie Thienphosuwan, an American-born Thai actress and model. The couple split up after pictures showing the actress with bruises started circulating online, sparking speculation she had been beaten up.

On May 19, 2007, Chonsawat refused to take an alcohol test after he was stopped by police at a checkpoint on New Phetchaburi Road. He allegedly raised his car window, trapping the hand of a police officer and then dragged him for 100 metres before stopping at a petrol station, where his entourage beat up the officer. Chonsawat faces charges over the incident.

On April 10, 2010, he allegedly ordered his aides to use a backhoe to knock down a restaurant's fence on Soi Phatthanakan 20 following a property dispute.

An officer from Khlong Tan police station who came to settle the dispute was allegedly pushed in the chest by Chonsawat, while an aide pointed a gun at the head of another policeman.

Chonsawat and his aide face charges of attempted murder. He was released on bail.

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