By Teeranai Charuvastra
BANGKOK — No investigation has been launched into alleged graft in the construction of a billion-baht park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, as the military and police say proper procedure dictates the other do so.
Days after the former army chief who oversaw construction of the Rajabhakti Park conceded it was tainted with corruption, a police spokesman today said nothing could be done until they get a request from the army, which commissioned the project, while Defense Minister Pravit Wongsuwan said police are welcome to take the initiative.
Rajabhakti Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province features seven giant statues of historically prominent kings – Thailand’s answer to the Three Kings Statues in Myanmar’s capital city, Naypyidaw. 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.
“Right now, police have not received any complaint about the construction Rajabhakti Park,” police spokesman Maj. Gen. Piyapan Pingmuang said yesterday. “If there’s a complaint, we will investigate it. In this kind of case, there needs to be someone who complains, and right now there isn’t. If the army doesn’t complain, this case is over.”
But Gen. Pravit told reporters today the police must make the first move.
“We are waiting for the police to investigate it,” he said. “We have to let the procedure for investigations run its course.”
After going back and forth over the matter, army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said late this afternoon that an internal investigation has been launched by the army. Col. Winthai said the inquiry would wrap up "within a week."
Both sides seemed reluctant to take action on an investigation involving sensitive and potentially volatile issues involving the monarchy, whom the park was built to honor, and a crackdown on people accused of defaming the Royal Family by exploiting their ties for personal gain, two of whom died recently while being held in military custody.
In that context, reports from local media began emerging about corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project.
Army officials at the opening ceremony of Rajabhakti Park in Prachuap Kiri Khan province on Aug. 19, 2015.
Anonymous sources complained of unusually expensive purchases: 100,000 baht for each palm tree, 44 million baht for each king statue and 1 million baht for a VIP seat at the park’s opening gala.
Former army chief Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr on Tuesday confirmed reports that the army paid a middleman to make arrangements, such as contracting the foundries which cast the statues, pocketing 10 percent “commissions” along the way.
The middleman – identified in only as an amulet businessman – took a 10 percent cut for each king statue. Due to the likelihood of legal action under Thai defamation law, Khaosod English is withholding the man's identity.
Udomdet suggested the money had been repaid but was not sure of the details.
Police spokesman Piyapan said Udomdet would not be summoned to give testimony about what happened.
Gen. Pravit said the army does not intend to summon Udomdet for questioning either. The army will simply ask the Rajabhakti Park Foundation to submit documents about the funding, Pravit explained.
“We have to investigate both sides of the story for clarity,” he said.
The general also lashed out at those who seized on the scandal to criticize the army’s perceived lack of financial transparency.
“The army has already set up a committee to take care of the budget spending,” Pravit said. “I don’t want any political group seizing this opportunity to attack the army … the military is not anyone’s enemy. Today, we work for the stability of the nation.”
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the announcement this afternoon the army had launched an internal review of the project.
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