Revelation by 3 agencies contradicts Udomdej's claim that project only used donations; Pheu Thai calls for deputy minister to resign after news Bt63 million used to buy the land
THREE KEY authorities have found that the scandal-plagued Rajabhakti Park project has used more than Bt60 million of the state budget.
In the eye of the storm is Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr, who left the helm of the Army just two months ago.
Udomdej and several other government figures had earlier tried to suggest that the project used donations – not state funding – and thus might not need to be subjected to scrutiny by anti-graft agencies.
Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya yesterday disclosed that he had heard from the Office of the Auditor-General, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Office of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission that more than Bt60 million of government money had gone into the project.
In its latest statement, the Pheu Thai Party demanded that Udomdej step down from his ministerial portfolio.
The Rajabhakti Park project has emerged as a big scandal lately with more information pointing to alleged irregularities such as demand for illicit kickbacks from foundries, and alleged lack of transparency in budget management.
Funded by about Bt1 billion in donations, this project has developed a grand park in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district and erected huge statues of seven former Thai kings under the Army’s supervision. The park also sits on Army land.
After Udomdej retired from the Army at the end of September, General Teerachai Nakwanich rose to the helm of the Army.
“Personally, I think the Army chief said the project has not used the state budget because the Army’s probe focuses on the budget used from the time construction of the park started. But more than Bt60 million had been spent on the land plot prior to that,” Paiboon said.
The Army had responded to the scandal by launching a probe, but that investigation’s conclusion that there was no irregularity in the project’s implementation has failed to ease public uproar.
Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday said his ministry had set up a fact-finding committee to look into the scandal with the ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, General Chaichan Changmongkhon, as the committee’s chairman.
“I haven’t set any specific time frame,” said Prawit, who signed the order to form the committee on Thursday.
According to the defence minister, the probe will focus on persons involved in the project, not the project itself.
Paiboon separately described the Defence Ministry’s investigation as a probe by an external organisation.
“The defence minister has made the move because he supervises the Army,” he said.
Paiboon said the probe by the Army, meanwhile, was like an internal investigation.
He insisted that the authorities had handled this case in line with proper procedures.
“The Centre for National Anti-Corruption, which is an independent, agency, has also looked into the scandal. It’s an independent probe,” he said.
Paiboon also said the Rajabhakti Park project was not related to any lese majese offence.
“They are separate cases. It’s just that some suspects in the two different cases may be the same persons,” he said.
The Rajabhakti Park project reportedly received Bt63 million of government money from the central budget, which is usually reserved for reimbursement of expenses that the state officials can claim through the exercising of such rights as those to medical treatment, unexpected expenses, and expenses incurredby special government policies or projects.
The Pheu Thai Party said yesterday that in light of this fact, as well as the close ties between Udomdej and the two suspects – Kachachart Boondee and Maj-General Suchart Phrommai – he should step down.
Both Kachachart and Suchart face arrest warrants. They are considered close aides of Udomdej, according to the Pheu Thai Party. Suchart served as the secretary and a board member of the Rajabhakti Park Foundation, which is chaired by Udomdej himself.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said that at this point he did not think Udomdej should be held responsible for the wrongdoings of others, even his subordinates.
He also said relevant authorities would investigate the Rajabhakti Park’s use of the central budget.
“If the investigation finds wrongdoing, wrongdoers will face disciplinary or criminal actions,” he said.
The prime minister urged people to beware of some people’s intention to exploit the Rajabhakti Park scandal.
“Don’t play into their hands,” he said.
NACC president Panthep Klanarongran, meanwhile, said his agency had been working closely with the Office of the Auditor-General in regard to the Rajabhakti Project case.
“This means if the Office has detected any irregularities, it will definitely forward this case to the NACC for further action,” Panthep said.