BANGKOK — Of the 31 ministerial officials who served during the years Rolls-Royce said it paid bribes to Thai officials, only two were implicated Friday following seven weeks of investigation by the national anti-graft agency.
Those two, as it turned out, served under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader of a political dynasty the current military government has sought to dismantle. The graft agency said there’s not enough evidence linking the other 29 high-ranking officials to the graft, which spanned 13 years.
The investigation was launched after the British auto and engine maker admitted to a British court it gave a billion baht to government and Thai Airways officials between 1991 and 2005.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s Sansern Poljeak said it could only found evidence of wrongdoing in one of three timeframes identified by Rolls-Royce: April 2004 to February 2005.
Sansern said the commission lacked “sufficient detail about who was involved” before that time period. “So we will keep seeking out facts,” he said.
The two ministers implicated by the commission were former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit and his deputy Wichet Kasemthongsri, who served from 2004 to 2005.
Others implicated by the NACC were 15 former board directors of Thai Airways and nine people who worked in the airline’s planning department at the time.
A subcommittee has been convened to see if there’s sufficient cause to prosecute all 26 officials in a court of law, Sansern said.
The sec-gen also said British authorities have yet to send relevant documents about the bribery to the Thai commission. Without the evidence from the British, the commission would have to rely on luck, he said.
“If Britain really won’t send us the information, investigating the bribery will be more difficult,” Sansern said. “But if we’re lucky, and we find the money trail for the bribery, we will be able to arrest the people who received it.”
Peter Cowe, a spokesman for the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, declined to comment on whether the agency had any involvement in the Thai inquiry.
“We cannot confirm, deny or comment on any international assistance taking place,” Cowe said in an email. “This is a longstanding convention, to protect our investigations and proceedings, and those of other authorities.”
The British court’s judgment is available on the UK’s Courts and Tribunals Judiciary site, as well as a 52-page case report from the Serious Fraud Office. Neither identify by name the recipients of the bribes.
One of the subcommittee members assigned to the case said politics did not factor into their work.
“It has nothing to do with that,” police Gen. Sathaporn Laothong as to why the agency only implicated Thaksin-era ministers. “We looked at details of what happened. No matter what government they worked for, we would have investigated all of them.”
Sathaporn said officials have yet to find any convincing evidence from other administrations because it’s been many years since the bribery took place.
“One factor is time,” the former police inspector said. “It’s been more than 20 years now. So much time has passed since then.”