BANGKOK – Thailand’s Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced a former minister and a former fire department chief to prison for corruption in connection with the purchase of fire trucks and boats for the Thai capital.
The court said former Deputy Interior Minister Pracha Maleenont had been found guilty for malfeasance in public office and price fixing over the 2004 purchases. A majority of the nine judges voted to sentence him to 12 years imprisonment.
Former Bangkok fire department chief Atilak Tanchukiat was given a 10-year jail term on the same charges.
The Supreme Court issued arrest warrants for the two, who did not show up to hear the verdict on Tuesday.
Five officials had been charged in the case involving the purchase of 315 fire trucks and 30 fire boats from the Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch for 6.69 billion baht ($207 million).
The National Anti-Corruption Commission, who filed the case to the Supreme Court in 2011, said the deal was overpriced and gave significant benefits to the Austrian company, compared to prices of the same types of equipment produced in Thailand.
The court dismissed the charges against two other ex-ministers and a former Bangkok governor for lack of evidence.
The court issued an arrest warrant for the former deputy minister and fined his guarantor 2 million baht after his no-show on Aug 6 on the grounds that he failed to give reasons for being absent, and therefore deliberately failed to attend. He is rumoured to have fled to a location in Europe.
Sitthichoke Srichareon, the NACC lawyer who brought the fire boats and trucks corruption case to court, told Khao Sod newspaper that Pracha asked permission from the court to travel to Hong Kong and Macau on July 31, promising he would return to Thailand to hear the Aug 6 verdict.
“I believe Pracha will not appear to hear the ruling and may have fled to the US or Europe by now. I don’t think [police] can go after him and catch him,” Mr Sitthichoke said, before the reading of the judgement on Tuesday.
He said the statute of limitations for a person fleeing an arrest warrant is 10 years