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Rajabhakti probe panel returns empty-handed

Dec 30. 2015
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By Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation

9,136 Viewed

Fact-finding team points to areas that need to be looked into by other agencies
THE INVESTIGATION into the Rajabhakti Park construction scandal has come up empty-handed, with the fact-finding committee only pointing out areas for other agencies to continue probing.
The suspicious areas include the construction of the statues of seven kings, unclear rules for project funding by donations and the short time for fund-raising.
Yesterday, at the Defence Ministry, the fact-finding committee set up by the ministry released its findings into the controversial project, which cost Bt816 million and has invited allegations of corruption.
Prior to the press conference, Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda endorsed Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr, who was allegedly involved in the scandal. 
Addressing the military brass who met him to offer best wishes for the New Year, Prem said he believed Udomdej was a good man.
Udomdej chaired the project to set up seven statues of former great kings at Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin district. He has admitted that somebody took commissions from the project’s construction.
General Chaichan Changmon-gkol, deputy permanent secretary for the Defence Ministry and head of the probe committee, told the press conference that the committee has forwarded its findings to Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.
“The committee has examined the documents within the Defence Ministry and invited 23 people related to the project for questioning,” he said.
“However, we don’t have the authority to conduct the investigation beyond the ministry because we do not have legitimate power to do so and we also don’t have the power to pass judgement on the facts,” he said. The examination of the documents found that the project was funded from two main sources – the government budget and donations. 
The project used Bt63.57 million from the state budget for five construction works and spent Bt732 million from donations on 27 construction works. The Rajabhakti Park project had Bt866 million in income, Bt816 million in expenses and available funds of Bt106 million as of November 30. “This budget spending was found out to be perfectly conforming to government budget-spending procedures. 
“And especially the fund-raising from the Rajabhakti Bike and Concert event and the tree-donation campaign was also widely advertised and regulated, so there was no suspicion of corruption on this topic,” he said.
The Rajabhakti Bike and Concert and the tree-donation campaign have been the target of corruption allegations because of their high expenses.
However, Chaichan said there were suspicions about the fund-raising, which the committee had mentioned in the report, that the donations might not follow the government’s rules.
There were also doubts about the short period of fund-raising.
Another prominent point was the controversy in the construction of the seven statues. Earlier it was exposed that there was corruption in this process. 
“The committee has tried to bring the people who were responsible for this task to give information on the process, but the effort largely failed because the committee could not reach most of these people. 
“Therefore, the investigation of this issue is still unclear and it needs further investigation by other agencies,” he said.
As for Udomdej, a former Army chief and also chairman of the Rajabhakti Park Foundation, he said the committee had no power to judge anyone and this issue had to be looked into further.
Pressured by the press about which agencies would continue the probe, Chaichan seemed unwilling to specify them, saying just that some of them are under the Defence Ministry.
“The information from the investigation is open to the public and any agencies can use this information to investigate further,” he said.

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