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

Controversial DNP chief dismissed

The Environment Ministry cites a bribe-taking allegation against him as “severely damaging” to the reputation of the concerned agencies and the public’s faith in the ministry’s administration. Holding onto his position could pose further damage to the ministry’s civil service, according to the ministry’s legal department

Natural Resources and Environment Mnistry’s Permanent Secretary Jatuporn Buruspat revealed this late afternoon that he has signed an order to dismiss the Director General of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation, Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, and this will take effect immediately_today onwards.

Mr. Jatuporn said he has received a progress report from the ministry’s appointed disciplinary probe panel, which has found that the DNP Chief’s bribe-taking acts as alleged have damaged the image and reputation of the department and the ministry. These have also cast a negative feeling among the public members as well as undermining their faith in the ministry, the panel noted.

The ministry’s legal department has looked into the progress report and considered that the allegation is severely damaging to the reputation of the organisations and the public’s faith in the ministry’s administration. And if he is allowed to hold onto his position, this could pose further damage to the ministry’s civil service, Mr. Jatuporn said in a statement issued, citing the legal department.

The permanent secretary said he has also contemplated on the lengthy disciplinary probe process, which is far from finishing. The panel may need some time to probe into the case as it has to summon a number of witnesses for testimonies as well as looking into loads of evidence.

As the civil service regulation B.E. 2556 regarding disciplinary action allows an action to be taken against a state official who is subject to a disciplinary probe and who could cause damage to the administration, and in accompanying with the lengthy probing process, he, therefore, has decided to issue an order to dismiss him for the time being following the regulation, said Mr. Jatuporn.

“The order complies to the regulation and it shows the progress in the ministry’s action to the public members so they can put down their concerns,” said Mr. Jatuporn, who added that his order takes effect immediately, today onwards.

Mr. Jatuporn during a meeting at the ministry today. Photo courtesy of Monre

Mr. Rutchada took the DNP office early last year but was transferred to help the PM’s Office one day after his office was raided by investigators from the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) 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 Bt 98,000 to the chief. As he had handed over the money, the investigators stormed into the chief’s 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.

l The sting operation on December 27 by NACC and ACD investigators at the DNP chief’s office. They faced some resistance from the chief before successfully finding the evidence and arresting him. Photos courtesy of NACC and ACD

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, who later signed another order to set up a disciplinary probe panel.

Talerngsak Petchsuwan, the ministry’s Deputy Permanent Secretary, who chairs the disciplinary probe panel, said the panel has summoned at least 50 officials to provide facts and information already. As soon as this is completed, the panel will invite Mr. Rutchada to hear the charge and defend himself with his available evidence. 

Mr. Rutchada is also subject to the inquiry and investigation by the NACC, which has recently taken over the case from the ACD. Under the NACC process, if grounds are established against him, the NACC will forward the case to prosecutors for prosecution, initiating the court procedures. Criminal as well as disciplinary charges will be laid against him at the same time under the NACC’s authority, and disciplinary action could be issued in addition to the ministry’s if the NACC views that that’s too light, according to the NACC’s Secretary General.

Meanwhile, the DNP’s panel investigating unfair transfers of the DNP’s officials during Mr. Rutchda’s term has updated its progress at the press conference today, saying it has issued an order to transfer at least four national parks chiefs; already; be they Tarutao, Khao Chamao, Khao Lam Ya-Samed, and Tablan.

The panel said it could not transfer all embattling with Mr. Rutchada’s orders at once as it needs to consider their work performances after the transfers. The timeframe of the pane’s work completion cannot be set either, its spokesperson said.

Seub Nakhasathien Foundation earlier called on the panel to reshuffle those treated unfairly back to their previous offices at once for the sake of fairness. According to its analysis, at least 80 out of 134 national park chiefs were transferred during Mr. Rutchada’s term. The foundation also recommended that the panel comprise a third party for its transparency and accountability. Its proposals, however, were turned down by both the ministry and the department.