Ex-Pheu Thai MP lands in jail for 6 years over bribery charges

TUESDAY, JULY 09, 2024

Supreme Court judges uphold previous sentence, say they have no reason to believe defendant’s claims

The appellate panel of judges at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office on Tuesday upheld the guilty verdict against a former Pheu Thai MP. The judges said they found no reason or justification to change the verdict.

Anurak Tungpanithanon, a former Pheu Thai MP for Mukdahan, faces six years in prison for demanding a 5-million-baht bribe from Sakda Wichiansilp, then-chief of the Groundwater Resources Department (GRD). The MP apparently promised to approve funding for several GRD projects in exchange for the payoff.

In 2020, Anurak was a member of a subcommittee vetting the budget bill and a subcommittee in charge of reviewing water resources projects of all government agencies.

All GRD projects need to be endorsed by both panels before being implemented.

Cases that come under the Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office are tried at two levels – primary and appellate levels and the decision by the judges’ panel is final.

Anurak was present at the court on Tuesday and was immediately escorted to prison after the verdict was read. He was accompanied by the PM’s deputy secretary-general Somkid Chuakong.

The primary level of the Supreme Court’s division ruled on April 25, 2023, that available evidence and accounts from the key witness Sakda clearly showed that Anurak did indeed demand the bribe in exchange for approving GRD’s ground-well projects.

The division found Anurak guilty of abusing his authority for personal gains and sentenced him to six years in jail. Anurak was also fired as MP retroactively since April 19, 2022, when the court accepted the case against him.

He was also banned from contesting an election or taking on a political post for life, as well as prohibited from casting votes for 10 years.

Earlier, Anurak was also charged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission for violating ethical standards and though the Supreme Court found him guilty, he was granted bail on a 1 million baht guarantee.

The case against Anurak hit the headlines in 2020 when Sakda cried foul during the vetting of his department’s projects by the then-MP’s subcommittee on August 5.

Sakda said Anurak repeatedly questioned GRD’s projects and would not listen to his repeated explanations. He also accused Anurak of calling him on the night of August 4 to demand 5 million baht in exchange for approving the projects.

The GRD chief later held a press conference that led to an investigation and a lawsuit against Anurak. He claimed that the former MP had demanded either 5 million baht in cash or contracts from the department to carry out multiple projects, but said he would not give in to Anurak’s demands.

Meanwhile, in the primary verdict, judges conceded that Sakda was the only key state witness in the case, but they saw no reason to believe Sakda would fabricate a case against Anurak.

The judges also reasoned that there were phone records proving that Anurak did indeed call Sakda the night before his subcommittee deliberated the project.

The court, meanwhile, rejected Anurak’s claim that he had called Sakda to ask for documents about the project, saying the task of seeking documents can be done by the panel’s secretary.

Furthermore, the court said, Sakda had spoken about this case with his colleagues, who oversaw other departments, and warned them that they may also face similar bribe demands. The judges said Sakda’s colleagues confirmed the statement.

As a result, the court ruled that the surrounding evidence was strong enough to convict Anurak for abusing his authority to demand a bribe.