Police Defend Buying 1 Billion Baht ‘Private Jet’ For Prawit

Image: Wassana Nanuam / Facebook

BANGKOK — A transparency activist on Tuesday filed a complaint to probe the police’s purchase of a 1.14 billion baht jet for ferrying deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage.

In the wake of public outrage at photos of the junta’s second-in-command exiting a private jet with a flight attendant in tow, campaigner Srisuwan Janya called the acquisition a waste of taxpayers’ money and urged the state auditor to look into the matter. Police top brass have defended the jet, saying it’s necessary for government trips.

“Is the Royal Thai Police’s purchase of the jet to service Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan valid spending, or does it suggest corruption?” Srisuwan told reporters after filing his complaint to the Office of the Auditor General.

Read: Activist Protests Higher Salaries for Generals

Srisuwan also noted the Dassault Falcon 2000S bought by the police cost about 350 million baht more than the global market price.

“Why does Thailand like to buy things at a higher price than other people?” the activist asked. “Or was there some special [deal] that they haven’t revealed to the people?”

The jet, which entered the force’s service in September 2018, was first spotted when it took Gen. Prawit and other officials to Lopburi province on June 28 for a government event. But photos of the aircraft only went viral on social media last week.

Anger on the internet was further fueled when it emerged that the police paid 1.14 billion baht for the private jet. Many netizens also questioned why the plane appears to be staffed by uniformed flight attendants.

“Is my tax money being used for someone’s convenience?” user Yat Phanchang wrote in reply to a news thread.

But police spokesman Piya Uthayo insists the plane was a sound investment, as the vehicle has been used to carry not only Gen. Prawit but also the police commissioner and other high-ranking officials.

“The plane is suitable for airports with short runways, and it can fly in all weather conditions [when] normal helicopters cannot fly,” Police Gen. Piya said at a news conference.

He also said officials use the plane on important assignments outside Bangkok, like government inspections, drug raids, and to follow up crucial investigations.

But Srisuwan the activist says the police already have a fleet of 71 other airplanes and helicopters which can fly in all conditions.

Public grievances over questionable acquisitions of expensive hardware have been common since the junta came to power in the 2014 coup.

In January, the army announced it had bought 14 Chinese battle tanks with a collective price tag of 2.4 billion baht.

A month later, the Ministry of Defense signed another 2.2 billion baht deal to buy more armored vehicles from China, sparking complaints that the funds should have been used to improve infrastructure and hospitals.