Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon’s (The Rolex General) scandal over luxury watches that ended in an anti-corruption investigation is once again come to the forefront of the news.
Thailand’s anti-graft body has been criticized for subverting the system of checks and balances of politicians and high-ranking officials. Its explanation about Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon’s borrowed luxury watches has drawn huge scrutiny. The explanation comes in a letter dated Monday and sent by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to an opposition politician — 17 months after he wrote to them. Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a Pheu Thai Party member in Thailand, asked the NACC on Jan 3, 2019 to explain why it did not find Gen Prawit guilty of failing to declare 22 luxury watches. Watches he claimed to have borrowed from a friend who later died. The original ruling was made on Dec 26, 2018. Mr Ruangkrai publicised the letter, signed by Sukij Boonchai, the acting NACC secretary-general, and it has since been widely shared online.
The letter says the NACC commissioners acknowledged that Pattawat Suksriwong was the owner of the luxury watches and had lent them to Gen Prawit. It also confirmed that Gen Prawit had returned the watches, worth tens of millions of baht, to Pattawat after he used them. “The borrowing is a ‘loan for use’. While a loan for use is a liability, it is not the type the NAAC requires to be declared in its (asset declaration) form,” Mr Sukit wrote. The NACC’s definition of liabilities only covers money, not loans for use, in which the assets have been returned to the lenders in their original form (with no money involved), he added. “Therefore, Gen Prawit is not obliged to declare the borrowed watches as liabilities in his asset declaration form,” he concluded. Former finance minister Thairachai Phuvanatnaranubala wrote on Facebook that the interpretation of “liabilities” by the incumbent commissioners ran against common sense. A prevailing interpretation of liabilities is anything of monetary value, not just something where real money is involved. For the sake of transparency, he urged the NACC to list cases where it had convicted or acquitted people in the past for the same reason, how it interpreted each of these cases and whether those interpretations were in line with the description it gave in the letter to Mr Ruangkrai. Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law professor and leader of the Progressive Movement, wrote on Facebook that such an interpretation would open the door for widespread asset concealment.