BANGKOK — Top government officials on Friday ordered a probe into the Future Forward Party after it admitted to hiring an American lobbyist to facilitate the party leader’s visit to the US in July.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said he has seen the contract between American public relations firm APCO Worldwide and the leader of the Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit that surfaced in the media on Thursday, though he refused to link it with the recent rally against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in New York.
“I’ve seen it,” Prawit said. “I don’t know whether it relates to the protesters. We have to look into it.”
A reporter then asked him whether the opposition party is the mastermind of the new movement.
“Let’s follow what they’ve said. At least the Prime Minister handled the situation well and could continue his speech,” he responded.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declined to comment on whether the hiring violates any law.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember,” he said.
In a statement issued Friday on its Facebook page, the party said it’s normal practice for a foreign politician to hire a facilitator to arrange meetings with local political figures and academics. It also insisted that the document was not leaked as some media had claimed.
“These documents have to be disclosed as per US law, under which any work related to politics has to be revealed for transparency,” reads the statement.
“Thanathorn hired APCO Worldwide LLC to facilitate arrangements with local individuals and organizations during his visit to the US from July 12 to 16,” the statement continued. “Some appointments have to be registered beforehand, so a representative is needed in accordance with the US law.”
The statement was made in response to some media reports that accused Thanathorn of hiring a lobbyist to create negative impressions of the current administration. The party denied the allegations.
Thanathorn went to the US to explain his working principles and the situation in Thailand, as well as to learn about policy implementation in the US, according to the statement.
Though the party claimed it hired the firm to facilitate Thanathorn’s visit in July, the length of the contract, which costs 10,000 dollars a month, is effective until the end of the year.
The party’s spokeswoman Pannika Wanich has not responded to a reporter’s questions as of press time.
The contract also said that Thanathorn authorized the firm to carry out political activities on his behalf, which have been defined as any activity that intends to influence any agency or official of the US government or the public.
Thanathorn said he will go on Facebook Live to clarify the matter later today.
During his five-day visit to the US, Thanathorn gave interviews about Thailand’s political situation to a number of foreign media agencies, including NBC News, Bloomberg, and VOA Thai.