By The Nation
THE SUPREME Court yesterday sentenced former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and 19 others to jail terms of 24-48 years for their leading roles in executing fake government-to-government (G-to-G) rice deals during the previous Yingluck government’s tenure, causing Bt16.9-billion financial damage to the state.
Boonsong got a harsh sentence of 42 years while former deputy commerce minister Phumi Saraphol was given a 36-year jail term for approving four G-to-G rice export deals with China which turned out to be bogus, causing the massive financial damage to taxpayers.
A former chief of the Department of Foreign Trade at the Commerce Ministry as well as other senior officials responsible for international rice trading were also sentenced to lengthy jail terms as was Apichart Jansakulporn, owner of rice trading firm Siam Indiga Co.
Boonsong and others were sent to the Bangkok central prison after the high court read the verdict on this controversial case which is connected to the previous government’s rice-pledging scheme in which former premier Yingluck Shinawatra was accused of negligence of duty while implementing the programme.
According to the highest court, both ex-ministers violated several sections of the Criminal Code |and abused their authority when formulating the G-to-G deals which turned out to be fake with no rice exported to China as announced.
Instead of exporting the rice to China, the first deal led to the illegal sale of 2.19 million tonnes of government-owned rice, acquired under the rice-pledging scheme, at a relatively low price of Bt10,000 to multiple domestic traders who benefited from the lack of competitive bidding.
Siam Indiga owner Apichart, who is already imprisoned in a separate fraud case, was instrumental in colluding with state officials to make illegal rice sales to domestic traders for huge profits.
The first bogus deal involving 2.19 million tonnes of rice resulted in an estimated Bt9.7-billion financial damage to the state.
In the second deal, another 2 million tonnes of rice was also sold domestically at a relatively low price to domestic traders, not exported to China as announced, resulting in an estimated Bt1.29-billion financial damage.
When two other fake deals were included, the state suffered financial damage estimated at a total of Bt16.9 billion.
The high court also ordered Apichart, Siam Indiga and others to pay Bt16.9 billion compensation to the state.
Bogus G-to-G export deals with China were understood to be tactics used to promote the rice-pledging programme to ensure that there was public support since large quantities of rice purchased from farmers at an inflated price could be quickly exported to big markets like China.
According to the court, there were a total of 28 persons indicted in this case, including officials of seven private rice-trading firms, but two persons fled and seven were acquitted.
All 4 G-to-G deals were invalid
The high court held a total of 20 hearings on this case with 27 witnesses provided by the public prosecutors and 103 witnesses provided by the defendants.
According to the court, all four G-to-G rice deals signed between the Thai authorities and two Chinese state enterprises, were invalid, since only China National Cereals, Oil and Foodstuff Import Export Corp (COFCO) was authorised to enter into G-to-G deals on behalf of the Chinese government.
At this stage, it remains unclear if Boonsong and others would be released on bail on Monday to seek a review of judgements.
Under the current Constitution, which became effective in April this year, both defendants and plaintiffs have the right to appeal cases within 30 days, regardless whether there is new evidence or not.
A lawyer for Boonsong yesterday also submitted a request to the court for a temporary release of the ex-minister.
Kobkiat Kasiwiwat, director-general of the Corrections Department, said all convicted persons will have to provide personal information for prison records and undergo physical examination while those facing jail terms of more than 15 years will be sent to the Klongprem prison.