By Jeerapong Prasertpolkrung
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday expressed his opinion for the first time in public that the Rajabhakti Park project might indeed be mired in irregularities.
While he said he was worried about Deputy Defence Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr, whom he considers a brother, he insisted that he would let justice run its course.
“If he has done wrong, then he must admit it. If he hasn’t done it, then he must nail down the wrongdoers,” Prayut said.
For now though, the premier continues brushing aside pressure for Udomdej to step down as well as calls for a Cabinet reshuffle.
“Why should he take responsibility for the scandal now? Is it already clear that he is guilty?” Prayut asked when pressed by reporters.
Udomdej, who retired from the Army a few months ago, is at the centre of the Rajabhakti Park scandal, though Prayut said he believes two other persons who abruptly left the military could be the real culprits.
“If they had done nothing wrong, why would they have run away?” he asked, without identifying anybody.
Funded mainly through donations, the Rajabhakti Park is situated on an Army plot of land in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district. The project was implemented under the Army’s supervision, with the Rajabhakti Park Foundation being established in mid-September apparently to help manage the project. Udomdej chairs this foundation.
Apart from the donations, the project also used about Bt63 million from the state budget.
When the scandal first broke last month, Udomdej admitted that demands for illicit kickbacks had been detected during the project’s construction, but insisted that the problem had already been solved.
The Army then launched a probe into the scandal in a bid to protect its reputation.
However, despite Army chief General Teerachai Nakwanich’s announcement that no signs of corruption were detected, public doubts continue to linger.
In the face of public pressure, the Defence Ministry recently set up a committee to look into the scandal, but did not set any specific timeframe.
When asked if he would reshuffle the Cabinet once the Defence Ministry’s panel completes its investigation, Prayut said he would prefer to wait until other agencies look into the issue as well.
“Any agency that has the mandate can investigate this matter,” he said, adding that he would comply with the law and ensure justice to all.