By THE NATION
LEGAL QUESTIONS arose yesterday over how Cabinet ministers and civil servants were able to afford seats at an extravagant fundraising dinner run by the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party on Wednesday.
The law on political parties prohibits state agencies from giving them donations of any kind or participating in their activities.
Each table at Wednesday’s feast cost Bt3 million and several were reserved in the names of the Finance Ministry and state agencies including the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Four tables, worth a combined Bt12 million, were reserved in the name of Phalang Pracharat secretary-general Sonthirat Sonthijirawong, who is commerce minister in the military-led government.
Twenty tables – another Bt60 million in the party’s coffers – were reserved for the Finance Ministry and three for the TAT.
Finance permanent secretary Prasong Poonthanet insisted yesterday that no state funds had been expended.
“We couldn’t possibly use state budget to buy seats at the banquet – it’s illegal,” he said. “Plus, as a state agency, we are non-partisan.”
The Nation could not reach anyone at the TAT for comment.
Attending Wednesday’s feast with Sonthirat were his fellow Cabinet members Uttama Sawanayon, Kobsak Pootrakool and Suvit Maesincee.
None of the ministers spoke onstage, despite initial plans to have them offer remarks.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who serves as the government’s chief legal expert, had advised against ministers attending the event from giving speeches because that would be breaking the law. Violating the law could get them banned from politics for five years, he warned.
Anti-corruption activist Veera Somkwamkid said yesterday the National Anti-Corruption Commission should determine how many active civil servants attended the fund-raiser and how they obtained tickets.
“If somebody paid for them, they should be scrutinised for illegally receiving a gift worth more than Bt3,000. And if they paid for themselves, they should be scrutinised for being ‘unusually rich’,” Veera said.
Former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, now a member of the Democrat Party, urged the Election Commission to investigate the banquet, saying there could be legal consequences.
The Phalang Pracharat “One United Thailand” event featured 200 banquet tables and was aimed at raising around Bt600 million for the pro-junta party.
Deputy party leader Nattapol Teepsuwan said yesterday the actual take was nearly Bt650 million, against an outlay of Bt3 million.
For their contributions, attendees dined on rocket salad with prawns, smoked salmon, US scallops and avocado, shrimp ravioli, saikyo miso fillet of snow fish and, at the end, raspberry white chocolate and pralines.
Apart from the Cabinet members who are also registered party executives, guests included businessmen, celebrities and fellow influential politicians Somsak Thepsutin, Suriya Juangroongruangkit, Suwat Liptapanlop, Warathep Rattanakorn and Nikorn Chamnong.
Providing the entertainment were Tata Young, Radklao Amaradis, Koh Mr Saxman and the band Nuvo.
It was the biggest fund-raiser so far staged by any political parties during the just-started campaign season.
Another pro-junta party, Action Coalition for Thailand (ACT), held a bash on Tuesday but raised only about a third of what Phalang Pracharat pocketed.
ACT treasurer Jutathat Laothammatas announced yesterday that its dinner raised Bt234 million with 234 tables priced at Bt1 million apiece.