BANGKOK — The head of the Internal Trade Department resigned on Monday amid allegations that he colluded with the hoarding and profiteering of millions of sanitary masks.
Whichai Phochanakij submitted his resignation just hours after the government abruptly removed him from office and transferred to an inactive post. In an interview with reporters, he maintained he had nothing to do with the alleged stockpiling and sales of 200 million face masks to China.
“On the bright side, this is a good thing to do because I worked so hard that I had to undertake a brain surgery once,” Whichai said.
He continued, “But what really hurt me is that people believed in fake news more than reality. I confirm that the stockpiling of those 200 million face masks doesn’t exist because the current production capacity takes four months to reach that number. Therefore, you will never find it because it doesn’t exist.”
His transfer was signed yesterday by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, who said in the order that it is aimed “to build confidence among people.”
Prior to his removal from the office, Whichai was at the center of a controversy relating to the acute shortage of face masks in Thailand, which have since come under oversight of the department.
But an accusation recently surfaced that an aide of minister Thammanat Prompao colluded with several people to hoard and sell 200 million face masks to buyers in China, raising questions how the massive quantity of masks allegedly slipped through Whichai’s oversight.
Wichai also came under fire sparking a rift among state agencies by filing a police complaint against a spokesman of the Department of Customs, accusing him of libel for telling the media that Wichai authorized 330 tons of masks to be exported overseas.
The Customs Department later said that it was a miscommunication and the quantity also included other textile items.
In another spat that left netizens scratching their heads, Whichai also reportedly demanded an apology from the Thai Pharmacies Association after saying that they have not been alloted a single sanitary mask for sales. According to media reports, Whichai said he would allocate a quota to them only when they apologized in person.
The association said it received 30,000 masks from Whichai’s department on Saturday, and no apology was made.