Mr. Rutchada's first and only public appearance at NACC on Jan 23 since the arrest. (Pool photo)

Anti-corruption court demands more facts and evidence in counter-suit brought by dismissed DNP chief

The court has cited an incomplete statement of claim filed to the court against Anti-Corruption Division investigators and Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, the chief’s subordinate and a whistleblower, and issued an order asking for a revision of the statement of claim from the chief as well as his appearance at the court next week

The Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases today has scheduled to go through the lawsuit filed by Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, an embattled ex-chief of the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department (DNP), who early this month was dismissed by the Environment Ministry pending for its disciplinary probe against his alleged acts of bribe-taking at the department last year.

This is to see whether the case is ready for further court proceedings or ruling or whether it needs further action from concerned parties before the case can go ahead with the court proceedings.

Both sides were absent at the court today, however.

After reviewing the case this morning, the court eventually decided to issue an order instructing the plaintiff through his lawyers to provide more facts and evidence to back up the claims against the accused on an allegation concerning violation of the Personal Data Protection Act B.E. 2562 (2019).

The court said the plaintiff asked the court to rule and issue a penalty against the accused for violation of the act, but failed to describe the guilt committed by the accused clearly, especially on the parts concerning their authority under this act as “data controllers” and what established “personal data”, and how they breached it.

The court also instructed Mr. Rutchada to appear to the court on the scheduled date, set on Feb 23, to give further statements and evidence himself on at least eight severe allegations concerning violations of the Penal Code, B.E. 2499 (1956), including Article 157 concerning negligence or malfeasance in office of state authorities, which could result in a jail term up to one to 10 years, or/and a fine from Bt 20,000 to 200,000. The court wanted to learn more about additional circumstances both before and after the arrest on Dec 27, citing Mr. Rutchada should know best as he experienced it first hand.

“If he doesn’t show up, that means he will not want to pursue the case and it will drop,” said the court.

At the same time, the court will send an official letter to the Royal Thai Police, instructing it to provide it with more concerned documents and information, aside from its arrest record.

According to the court’s statement, it wanted to learn more about the motivations behind the arrest and details of the circumstances before and during the arrest from the police. It also wanted to learn whether an arrest warrant was issued as well as details about the issuance. 

The court will also ask them whether there were video clips or voice records during the arrest, who made these, and who released them to the public and whether this act violated the police’s regulations concerning classified information. Aside from the Bt98,000 confiscated from the plaintiff’s office, what else the police had seized during the arrest, the court will ask.

As the statement of claim of the plaintiff is not complete and more information and evidence are needed to accompany its decision, the court therefore decided to issue the order as such along with the instructions to the parties concerned. It has set the ruling date for this case on March 30.

In addition, the court also instructed the plaintiff to remove the clause concerning the violation of rights addressed in the Constitution in his statement of claim citing that it’s not relevant.

Unlike other criminal courts, the anti-corruption court could initiate its fact-finding into cases. Simply put, the court viewed that the lawsuit is not yet complete to be pursued further with the court proceedings. So, it has instructed the plaintiff to review his statement of claim and appear to the court to point out facts or evidence directly. It’s the process of seeking more facts and evidence to accompany its decision to proceed with further court proceedings, according to the court.

l ACD commander Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew checked the chief’s desk and the money seized from his office on Dec 27 before he summoned Mr. Chaiwat for additional testimonies on Jan 4. Photos courtesy of ACD

The statement of claim

Mr. Rutchada took the DNP office early last year before investigators from the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) raided his office on Dec 27.

According to the NACC, the agency had received a complaint complaining that a senior executive of the department has exercised power to demand bribes from his subordinates in exchange for position retaining. The complainant was later unveiled as a director at the Protected Areas Regional Office 9 responsible for several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the lower Northeast, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn. Mr. Chaiwat said he could not stand the director-general’s acts, which he claimed had never happened before at the department.

Following their investigation, the investigators learned that the DNP chief had demanded bribes from his subordinates, who are heads of local park offices in exchange for position retaining. Those who refused to pay bribes were either removed from their offices or transferred to remote offices. As a result, some succumbed to his calls and had to pay bribes worth around Bt 200,000 to 300,000. In addition, he has also demanded them pay bribes monthly, according to the NACC.

The investigators then hatched a sting on Dec 27, asking Mr. Chaiwat to hand over the called money worth 98,000 baht to the chief. As Mr. Chaiwat had handed over the money, the investigators stormed into his office and caught him off guard, with the banknotes that had been marked or recorded on his desk. The investigators also searched his office and found nearly five million baht packed in several envelopes, but Mr. Rutchada denied any involvement with the money.

They counted the banknotes caught at hand in front of him before charging him with malfeasance in office and demanding or receiving bribes following Section 149 of the Criminal Code. He was also charged with Section 157 of the Code. The DNP chief denied all the charges and was released on bail. He was then transferred to the PM’s Office following an order signed by PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha the day after.

Following his arrest, the ministry swiftly appointed a fact-finding panel to examine the allegation. It found some grounds concerning “disciplinary misconduct” before reporting the result to the permanent secretary, Jatuporn Buruspat, who later signed another order to set up a disciplinary probe panel. 

Mr. Jatuporn early this month, on Feb 3, then signed another separate order to dismiss Mr. Rutchada after the probe reached one month. He cited that the probe has not yet been completed and the allegation has damaged the reputation and image of the department and the ministry.

As reported by Isra News Agency, Mr. Rutchada in the same week, on Feb 1, filed the lawsuit directly to the court, claiming he was set up and his reputation was damaged as a result.

Warachan Chuabankoh, one of Mr. Rutchada’s lawyers said Mr. Rutchada was not worried about the case and will definitely show up at the court as instructed. The lawyer team will revise the statement of claim and add more evidence and facts as instructed by the court. He claimed that Mr. Rutchada was in conflict with Mr. Chaiwat, who was subject to his liability examination of damages and costs done over the reforestation project Mr. Chaiwat was once in charge at Kaeng Krachan National Park years ago.

The lawyer, however, could not confirm whether Mr. Chaiwat is subject to the ministry’s disciplinary probe or is already found guilty, the result of which would then be established as a basis for the liability charge by the department. According to Mr. Jatuporn’s interview last week, the ministry is still probing into the case to establish facts, an initial stage that will then lead to a set-up of the ministry’s disciplinary probe panel to rule on the accused.