BANGKOK — The military government has disavowed any responsibility for alleged corruption in the billion-baht park constructed by the Royal Thai Army.
Deputy junta chairman Pravit Wongsuwan told reporters today the government would not intervene in the matter, the same day the national anti-graft agency announced it would not investigate reports of corruption in Rajabhakti Park which have been confirmed by the former army chief who oversaw it.
“I don’t understand why some people are calling on the government to explain it, because the construction of Rajabhakti Park is not a government matter, it’s the army’s,” said Pravit, a general in the army who also serves as Minister of Defense.
He also urged the public to wait for the results of an internal investigation being conducted by the army.
“Whatever the results will say, the army will explain it,” he said. “This is not government’s matter. Please understand us.”
Rajabhakti Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province features seven giant statues of historically prominent kings. Construction lasted from November 2014 to August 2015, and is said to have cost at least 1 billion baht. Much of the budget came from donations overseen by a charitable foundation established by the army.
After media reports of unusually high costs and an amulet-hawking middleman taking 10 percent commissions were confirmed by former army chief Udomdet Sitabutr, who oversaw the park’s construction from 2014-2015, the army announced Nov. 12 it would review the matter internally.
Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said the investigation would wrap up by Thursday.
The Rajabhakti Park scandal broke out amid an ongoing police crackdown on people accused of defaming the Royal Family by using their connections to enrich themselves. Four people have been arrested in connection with the case; including two men who died while in military custody.
An army colonel is also being sought for his alleged involvement in the Rajabhakti scandal. The colonel, Kachachat Boondee, has been charged with lese majeste. He has reportedly fled Thailand since Oct. 31.
Kachachat is the only army official to be charged in connection with Rajabhakti graft so far. Gen. Udomdet neither faces legal action nor has been asked to give testimony, despite his admission to the media that he was aware of irregularities, which he said were common in all sectors.
When a reporter brought up that Udomdet was serving as deputy Minister of Defense when he was in charge of the project – which made him a full official in the military-stacked government – Pravit lashed back.
“How is the government connected? We are not! It’s the army’s issue. It’s just some people are putting Udomdet on the bull’s eye, so the media keeps digging into him,” he said. “The government has been trying to administer many projects for the people. What else do you want from us? The army will explain this matter.”
Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, or NACC, said it would not investigate possible graft in the Rajabhakti project until the army is done with its internal inquiry.
“There’s no probe at the moment,” said commission spokesman Vicha Mahakhun. “We have to wait for the result of the [army] committee, which will take only seven days to look into it.”
Even if the army committee sounded an alarm that there was indeed corruption in the project, it does not automatically mean the commission will take up the issue, because it also depends on the rank of officials involved, Vicha added.
“We have to see the rank of those involved, whether they fall under NACC’s power to investigate,” Vicha said. “Are they above C-8? Because if they are lower than C-8, the NACC wouldn’t have the power to investigate them.”
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