NACC and ACD investigators counted the money found in the office of the DNP chief during the raid, whereas he was sitting on a sofa, watching. Photo courtesy of NACC

National Parks chief arrested on charges of bribe-taking

The chief, however, has denied all the charges, refusing to acknowledge the evidence caught at hand

Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya, Director-General of the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department (DNP), was arrested this late morning after the investigators from the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) stormed his office while he was in a meeting with some parks senior officials who came to offer him New Year wishes and greetings.

According to NACC’s Secretary-General Niwatchai Kasemmonkol, also in the capacity of the office’s spokesperson, the NACC 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.

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 yesterday hatched a sting, asking one damaged party to hand over the money worth 98,000 baht to the chief today. The banknotes were marked and recorded before being handed to him. As he was receiving the bribe, the investigators stormed into his office and caught him off guard, with the same banknotes on his desk. The investigators also searched his office and found nearly five million baht packed in several envelopes, but the accused denied any involvement with the money.

NACC and ACD investigators during the raid of the National Parks chief’s office today. Photo courtesy of NACC

They then 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. The accused has denied all the charges and will enter anti-corruption legal proceedings following the NACC’s legal procedures as it is the main agency tasked to suppress corruption among senior officials.

Mr. Rutchada’s superiors are still in much silence, being quoted as saying by some media outlets that they were shocked by his acts. Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Jatuporn Buruspat told Bangkok Post that a fact-finding panel of the ministry would be set up to find facts in this case within seven days.

Mr. Rutchada took the office just early this year after the old chief, Thanya Netithammakul, finished his two full terms. Since, there have been allegations of bribe-taking against him circulated among parks officials but no proof was ever shown. Some conservation advocates said this is among the worst periods of the department as bribes have been taken widely despite the department’s years-long efforts to establish a strong system against any interventions.