By THE SUNDAY NATION
The committee on Wednesday asked questions of representatives from the Court of Justice, the Office of the Attorney-General, the Royal Thai Police, as well as the Foreign Ministry as they sought to understand how facing charges or being convicted of a crime would impact a former prime minister’s possession of passports and ability to leave the country.
According to committee vice chair Somchai Sawangkarn, the committee had noticed repeated cases of convicted people, or people charged with crimes, managing to flee the country, including Yingluck. They wished to learn why this was occurring and what can be done to prevent it and so had invited the concerned parties to discuss the matter with the committee and give an update on their work.
Somchai said the committee was told that in Yingluck’s case, the Foreign Ministry had been contacted by the police, which suggested that the former prime minister was ineligible to carry a passport after the courts had ruled against her.
In a letter to the Royal Thai Police, the Foreign Ministry said it had considered the issue, agreed with the point made by the police, and suggested that Yingluck’s passports should be revoked.
The Attorney-General and Court of Justice insiders also informed the ministry that the decision of the Supreme Court convicting Yingluck was final after she did not launch an appeal against the verdict convicting her over the rice-subsidy scheme.
The ministry’s Consular Department then decided to revoke all of her passports after considering all opinions from concerned parties. It also circulated the notice to all Thai embassies worldwide, Somchai said.
However, it turned out that Yingluck had carried four passports in total, so the committee questioned how and why she had obtained them.
Somchai said a prime minister or ministers generally would be given a single diplomatic passport along with a general personal passport.
But Yingluck somehow obtained two more passports, a personal passport and a diplomatic passport, both issued on the same day – February 4, 2015 – even though her original two documents had not expired, said Somchai. He said representatives from the Foreign Ministry told the committee that it is possible for an individual to obtain a second general personal passport if a case is made out of necessity, but it would be considered on a case-by-case basis by the ministry.
However, the ministry’s representatives were not able to clearly explain to the committee how someone could possess a second diplomatic passport. They are normally limited to one per person and not renewed until it expired, Somchai noted. “They just said, it’s a consideration upon ‘a special case’, and it’s ‘a policy matter’,” said Somchai.
Somchai said committee members did not think their question had been adequately answered and still did not understand the reasoning behind issuing two additional passports to Yingluck in the period after the coup. “This happened during the junta’s term, didn’t it? We were worried,” said Somchai.
Somchai said diplomatic passports carry special privileges for the holder, as most countries would allow easy entry and exit without a visa.
The committee has not yet decided what to do with what they learned at the meeting. So far, they have recommended that the parties concerned fix a gap in their processes that may have allowed a convicted person to flee the country. Perhaps moving processes online would allow easier tracking of people who have been charged with crimes or applied for duplicate passports.
Yingluck was accused by the National Anti-Corruption Comm-ission of dereliction of duty and malfeasance for failing to prevent corruption in her government’s rice pledging scheme. She was sentenced in absentia to jail for five years.
Yingluck fled the country two days before the first court ruling scheduled on August 25. Her four passports were revoked on October 25, according to deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks said the ministry would investigate the matter before making any comments.