NACC and ACD investigators during the search at the DNP chief's desk before they found a fresh envelope containing Bt 98,000 handed over to him in an upper drawer last Tuesday. Photo courtesy of NACC

Disciplinary probe launched against embattled DNP chief

A criminal investigation has also been expanded to find more culprits as more damaged parties are being summoned by anti-corruption investigators, according to ACD

Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Kusol Chotirat, has held a press conference today to update the 7-day probe into the DNP bribe-taking scandal undertaken by the fact-finding panel he chairs, and revealed that his panel has finished the work and submitted its report to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary for consideration.

The Permanent Secretary, Jatuporn Buruspat, decided to launch a disciplinary probe against the accused, the DNP chief, upon receiving the report yesterday, he said, but added he has not yet seen an official order yet. A disciplinary probe panel is usually given time to probe into an allegation around 30 days, but this could be extended, he further added.

His fact-finding panel had primarily gathered some information shared by the anti-corruption investigators who stormed into the DNP chief’s office last Tuesday, said Mr. Kusol. It also called in two main figures for summoning; the DNP chief himself, and Mr. Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, a director of Paro 9, responsible for protected areas in the lower Northeast, a complainant.

The panel found some grounds concerning “disciplinary misconduct” but could not reveal the details as the fact-finding is actually considered as “classified”, Mr. Kusol said.

“It carried some grounds, it did,” said Mr. Kusol, recalling Section 83(1) of the civil service law. Under the section, as checked by Bangkok Tribune, it refers to a prohibition barring a civil servant from making false reports to the supervising official. The sub-section also states that “The concealment of facts that should be disclosed shall also be deemed as a false report.” Other prohibitions concerning malfeasance or negligence or misconducts prone to misuse of power or corruption, 83(3), (4), (5), (7), were not addressed by the panel’s chair.

ACD commander Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew commanded the search before finding money worth nearly five million baht in the DNP chief’s office last Tuesday. Photo courtesy of ACD

DNP Director-General Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, who took the office just early this year, was arrested on Tuesday morning last week after the investigators from the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) stormed into his office while he was in a meeting with some senior paks officials who came to offer him New Year wishes and greetings.

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. He 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 Tuesday morning, asking Mr. Chaiwat to hand over the money worth 98,000 baht to the chief. As he was receiving the bribe, 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. Mr. Rutchada denied all the charges. He was released on bail and transferred to the PM’s Office following an order signed by PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha the day after.

l Mr. Chaiwat testified and gave further evidence to the ACD investigators yesterday. Photos courtesy of Thai PBS

The ACD yesterday called on damaged parties treated as witnesses for testifying. The first was Mr. Chaiwat himself, who handed over further evidence to the ACD investigators.

He claimed that up to 17 subordinates of his are damaged parties and will come to give further testimonies and evidence to the investigators. Those with names appearing on other envelopes found in the chief’s office, 13 at least, will be called in for summoning.

ACD commander Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew said the ACD has also expanded its investigation in all dimensions, but cannot disclose the details to the public. He assured that his agency acts upon its duty and will do its best to find all the culprits, responding to the speculation that the investigation may not reach those at higher ranks as speculated.

“We have to be careful when doing our job as well. We are dealing with a “major storm”,” said Pol Maj Gen Jarooniat of the situation, stressing that the ACD is speeding up its investigation before handing the result over to the NACC for further proceedings following the anti-corruption law.

Mr. Jatuporn, meanwhile, has threatened to file a defamation lawsuit against any claimers if getting him involved with the scandal.