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Thammanat claims he ‘just slept’ in Aussie lock-up

Sep 11. 2019
Thammanat Prompao
Thammanat Prompao
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By The Nation

At a parliamentary questioning session on Wednesday (September 11), Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao insisted that his 1993 jail sentence in Australia had been settled and that he would like to continue working as a Cabinet member.

Thammanat had explain himself to Seri Ruam Thai party-list MP Pol Lieutenant Wisanun Moungpraesri, who is holding Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha responsible for nominating Thammanat for a Cabinet post even though he allegedly lacks the qualifications required of an MP.

The questioning stemmed from an Australian media report this week saying that Thammanat had served four years in a Sydney jail in the 1990s after allegedly pleading guilty to conspiring to import a commercial quantity of heroin and has reportedly been blacklisted from re-entering the country.

However, Thammanat insists he never confessed to smuggling heroin following his arrest in April 1993 and that his case had never been taken to court. As per a pre-bargaining process, he said, he was “locked up” for eight months and then “I was sent to take care of some younger detainees. After this work, I would return to sleep in the place the officials had prepared for me”.

The minister said it took four years for the case to wrap up.

“The Australian court just held me in the pre-bargaining process until the inquiry process was complete. After it ended, I still wanted to stay there with my family,” he said, adding that he has undergone many rounds of clearing his name and now wanted to live in the present and work to serve the Thai public.

“I won’t allow something that happened nearly 30 years ago to ruin my ideology to spend the rest of my life serving people. No matter what position I am in, I vow to work to repay my motherland and uphold Thailand’s three main pillars – nation, religion and monarchy,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Seri Ruam Thai Party leader Pol General Seripisut Temiyawet told reporters outside Parliament in the Kiak Kai area that if he were prime minister, he would resign to take responsibility for proposing a person with a criminal past like Thammanat and have him royally appointed as Cabinet member.

“You can’t argue that this is a matter under a court procedure from outside the country. Those involved in drug trafficking are all bad. How can such a person hold a minister’s position?” Seripisut asked.

As for Thammanat’s claim that this is being used to discredit and smear his name, Seripisut said: “I don’t want to say that I was the person who tipped the foreign media. After all, the Australian media already had some information. When the government will not do anything, I as the opposition must find an indirect way to check this. If you want to scold anyone for this, just scold me.”

When asked whether he was worried about being sued, he said: “How can a drug inmate sue an innocent person?” He also said he had just asked the media to find information and had not guided or paid them. “I admit to raising this point with the Australian media. I cannot stand by to see the government supporting this person as a minister.”

Meanwhile, Thai Civilised Party leader Mongkolkit Suksintharanon said he was ready to back opposition MPs in their request to have Thammanat investigated and punished if he is found to have committed a wrongdoing, even though he considers him a brother. However, he said, people should first wait to study the Australian court documents, which can be requested by the executive or legislative branch.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, meanwhile, revealed that Thammanat had provided evidence to explain his qualifications to the Secretariat of the Cabinet before taking up the Cabinet post, but he does not know if the Australian court verdict was included.

Meanwhile, political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paiboonratchata visited the Election Commission (EC) head office on Wednesday and asked the agency to look into several points related to Thammanat, such as how he managed to get reinstated in the Army and then got promoted in 1997 after returning to Thailand, why he used the military rank of captain in the documents he submitted to join the current Cabinet even though his title was revoked in a Royal Gazette announcement in September 1998 and why his Thai ID card number starts with 4 when according to his year of birth – 1965 – it should start with 3.

Chokchai also urged Thammanat to be honest about what he did in Australia. “How can be we sure you won’t lie to people when running the country?” he asked.

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