BANGKOK – Thailand’s national anti-graft body has charged 21 people, including a former Minister and his deputy, for allegedly committing fraud in a rice sale that was billed as a transaction between the Thai and Chinese governments.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has accused former Minister of Commerce Boonsong Teriyapirom and 20 other officials and businessmen of entering government-to-government rice deals with private Chinese companies that did not represent the People's Republic of China.
Fifteen of the 21 suspects charged by the NACC are representatives of the Siam Indica Company, a Thailand-based rice company that allegedly bought rice from the Chinese companies and later sold it to processing plants in Thailand.
Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the NACC, said the transaction caused "serious damage to the country." He estimated that the sales cost Thailand more than 600 billion baht, and added that the Ministry of Commerce has been authorized to recoup those losses by filing a compensation lawsuit against the 21 suspects.
Vicha said the NACC is also working with the Office of Attorney-General to prosecute the 21 suspects in the Supreme Court's Division for Holders of Political Office.
The NACC’s decision to take legal action against the so-called G2G deal comes two days before the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will vote on whether to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for failing to stop corruption in the rice-pledging scheme.
The charges were brought against Yingluck by the NACC. If found guilty, she faces a five year ban from politics.
Under the rice-pledging program, a key policy of Yingluck’s administration, the Thai government bought rice from farmers at above-market prices, but then struggled to sell the rice on the international market, accumulating stockpiles and resulting in huge financial loses.
According to the NACC, the scheme was riddled with mismanagement and corruption that cost the country more than 500 billion baht in damages.
Appearing before the NLA on 9 January, Yingluck denied the allegations and insisted that program was meant to improve the livelihood of Thai farmers. Yingluck’s supporters have accused the NACC of being allied to conservative factions in Thailand and conspiring against the former leader and her political party.