BANGKOK — A minister who spent the past week embattled in narcotics allegations was hit with fresh scandals Friday, when netizens raised concerns that his PhD might be bogus.
Thammanat Prompao, who was identified by an Australian newspaper to have spent four years behind bars in Australia for drug trafficking, insisted his education credentials from an institution in California are legitimate. He also said he’s planning to file at least 100 libel lawsuits against his detractors.
Thammanat, who serves as a deputy minister for agriculture, said the lawsuits will involve “foreign media, and individuals,” without elaborating.
His threat came as online critics lampooned him for listing a “degree” from “California University CFE” on his official biography. The agency, which stands for California University Foreign Credentials Evaluation, appears to be a qualification equivalency assessor rather than a university with any academic courses.
His biography on Parliament’s website also said he received a PhD in public administration from a certain “Calamus International University, USA.”
However, a quick online search revealed Calamus International University to be located in Vanuatu. Parliament removed the entry after the issue came to light.
Thammanat is not the only politician who has had his credentials from California University CFE questioned. In April, 2016, Zambian news media reported that Zambia’s Information Minister Chisimba Kambwili received a bogus honorary doctoral degree from the same institution.
But deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam said even if Thammanat’s PhD turns out to be fraudulent, it won’t affect his position because the law only requires cabinet members to hold a Bachelor’s Degree.
“As the constitution requires that a minister finish undergraduate studies, then the scrutiny ends there. There is no need to find out where he completed his master’s or PhD,” Wissanu told reporters. “Like when you apply for a job which stipulates that you must hold an undergraduate degree, even if you show them your doctoral, they don’t want to know,”
Asked whether Thammanat would be guilty of ethical violations if that is the case, Wissanu replied that it is another matter, and refused to give further comments.
A government-sponsored graft watchdog also declined to scrutinize Thammanat’s education background. Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand director Mana Nimitmongkol told the media the issue does not fit the scope of his agency.
Thammanat, a former soldier whose declared assets are worth over 866 million baht, has been battling a revelation by Sydney Morning Herald that he was convicted by an Australian court of heroin trafficking in 1993.
Citing court documents, the newspaper said Thammanat served four years in jail before being deported in 1997.
Thammanat said the report is false, though his version of the story has varied. The minister once said he spent eight months behind bars, while on other occasions he has insisted he never went to prison at all.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra