BANGKOK — A video that went viral on Thursday shows a senior military officer reprimanding a soldier who spoke out about alleged corruption in the ranks.
In the video, a man later identified as commander of the Army Ordnance Materiel Rebuild Center Apichart Artsantia can be heard telling his clerk, Sgt. Narongchai Intharakawi, to stop drawing public attention to the scandal and urged him to respect the unity within the armed forces.
“You may be able to get away this time, but there’s no next time for you,” Maj. Gen. Apichart says in the clip. “If you want to argue with your commander, if you believe you’re right, there’s a protocol in place to report it. I have been serving for more than 30 years, justice is delivered in every case. I haven’t seen any injustice before.”
The general continued, “Don’t think like a civilian. Reporting this and that will only get you in trouble. If you want to succeed in your career, then adapt to it. I have given you one last chance. I’m disappointed because you destroyed the reputation of our unit.”
Narongchai made news in April by reporting a fraud in his unit’s allowance money to a Parliament’s committee on transparency – the decision which he said might have cost him his life. Narongchai said he spent a year trying all channels to report the misconduct, to no avail.
“I have been forced to sign up with the program like many low-ranking men,” Narongchai said Wednesday. “I have no family or children, so I want to speak out for my colleagues in order to protect them and for the sake of the nation. No serviceman wants to hurt the army, but the commanders should take this matter seriously.”
Seri Ruam Thai MP Sereepisut Temiyaves, who also chairs the House Committee on anti-corruption, said he will call for a meeting to look into the matter as soon as the emergency decree has been lifted.
Sereepisut said the case is considered to be a serious allegation, since corruption within the army led to Thailand’s worst mass shooting by a disgruntled soldier earlier this year, he said.
“We must take action immediately, otherwise it can escalate like the Korat case,” Sereepisut said. “I ask Sgt. Narongchai to remain calm. The House Committee will take care of this matter to the best of our ability.”
The army top brass has yet to comment on the incident. The armed forces are often criticized for their perceived reluctance to address allegations of corruption and nepotism within their ranks.
Army commander-in-chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong on Wednesday also refused to testify before the House Committee on law and human rights over the alleged intimidation against the sergeant. He turned the hearing over to ordnance corps chief Sornchai Kanjanasoot.
“Lt. Gen. Sornchai said the army has launched a probe into the alleged corruption and intimidation,” committee’s spokesman Rangsiman Rome said. “Sgt. Narongchai also asked to be put under a witness protection program and transfer to another unit, which we will coordinate with the anti-corruption commission to facilitate his requests.”
Apirat pledged a renewed fight against internal corruption earlier this year following intense criticism in the wake of the Korat mass shooting that left at least 29 people dead. The killer allegedly started his rampage after his commanding officer cheated him of his money.
A hotline for low-ranking servicemen was launched as part of the effort, though it is not clear whether the whistleblower sergeant has used it.