Friday, July 19, 2019

Stung by evidence of internal graft, Forest Department launches purge

Jan 09. 2019
File photo: Siamese rosewood
File photo: Siamese rosewood
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By The Nation

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Seeking to purge all the “bad apples”, the Royal Forest Department (RFD) is trying to determine whether six of its officials recently sacked for selling protected phayung (Siamese rosewood) to a Chinese investor had links to a transnational logging and smuggling gang and whether any other officials were involved.

RFD chief Attapol Charoenchansa has instructed RFD Forest Fire Control Office director Cheewaparp Cheewatham to lead the probe, according to Attapol’s deputy, Amnuayporn Choldamrongkul.

The National Parks Department’s Phaya Sua Forest crime-suppression task force accused the six RFD officials of involvement in phayung logging and sale of timber to a Chinese investor. Some of the logs were seized as evidence. 

All six were fired from the civil service, Amnuayporn said.

Four of them – Panithan Pathumchankaew, Pakphum Intharat, Jirapong Pathumchan and Surapong Bangdee – were arrested in Tambon Pawa in Chanthaburi’s Kaeng Hang Maew district and placed in court-ordered detention, said Amnuayporn.

The other two – Anirut Jampathong and Nipon Nakkasem – remain at large. 

Amnuayporn said the six had allegedly been involved in “log laundering” for a long time. She alleged that they arrested illegal loggers and smugglers and then kept some of the timber seized off the books so they could sell it themselves to an investor.

She said the RFD also had assigned a committee to investigate other forestry officials accused of involvement with or abetting the so-called Mulan gang in provinces including Chiang Rai, Surin and Udon Thani.

The Mulan gang bears the name of a key member, a 40-year-old Chinese national nicknamed Mulan who has the Thai name Chalida Suphanthamat. 

Chalida reportedly served as a lumber broker for firms in China and had competed in a singing contest on Thai TV in 2013.

An arrest warrant was issued for her last August over serious “wood-poaching” offences. 

In September her ex-husband, retired senior Air Force officer AVM Surachai Khongthet, was arrested after police identified him as the lessee of a warehouse in Muang Samut Prakan where the Mulan gang allegedly stashed 412 logs worth at least Bt36 million. 

Surachai denied the allegation and was released on bail.

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