Lawyer Implicates More Politicians in Mask Hoarding Ring

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visits Rajavithi Hospital on March 12, 2020.

BANGKOK — A lawyer on Thursday said a group of politicians was involved in a conspiracy that led to scarcity of face masks in Thailand and then sold them at overpriced fees for profits.

Atchariya Ruangrattanapong, the combative chairman of the Help Crime Victim Club, submitted his allegations in a letter to deputy police commissioner Gen. Suwat Chaengyodsuk and urged him to prosecute the politicians, whom he refused to name to the media.

Atchariya would only say two of them were a “female politician,” and an advisor to a Cabinet member. The lawyer said the group was colluding with 14 private companies to hoard masks from the market, resulting in a shortage, only to sell them later.

Deputy police chief Suwat said he will look into the matter.

The accusation came after an aide of minister Thammanat Prompao was accused of selling 200 million face masks to buyers in China, even as medical personnel in Thailand are reported to be facing an acute shortage of supplies.

Allegations of face mask exports also led a state agency to file legal action against another agency on Thursday.

In a bizarre spat that left netizens scratching their heads, the Department of Internal Trade filed a police complaint against a spokesman of the Department of Customs, accusing him of libel for stating that the former authorized 330 tons of masks to be exported overseas.

International Trade Department director Vichai Pochanakit said the 330 tons of items his agency authorized for exports also includes non-medical items such as cushion covers, gowns, and clothing sheets.

Vichai also demanded that the Thai Pharmacies Association apologize to him in person for saying earlier this week they have not been alloted a single sanitary mask for sales due to restriction from the government.

If the association refuses to apologize, the department will not allow them to sell any masks, Vichai said.