BANGKOK – A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the fate of Deputy Premier General Prawit Wongsuwan continued yesterday after the country’s anti-graft watchdog failed to deliver its report on the probe into Prawit’s collection of luxury wristwatches.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) was scheduled to discuss the case and make a decision on the matter yesterday but postponed its meeting yet again, because a commissioner had called in sick.
The agency had said it would hold a press conference yesterday evening to announce its conclusion on the case. NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said his agency had its hands full and did not have time to discuss the issue yesterday. He only said the matter would be discussed today, adding that commissioner Sathaporn Laothong had taken sick leave yesterday, making it impossible for a decision to be made on the case.
The controversy erupted last year when Prawit was spotted wearing a Richard Mille designer wristwatch said to be worth nearly Bt3 million.
Observers immediately began questioning how Prawit could afford such an expensive watch with his income as a retired general. It was later discovered that he had not declared the item to the NACC when he became a Cabinet member.
Intrigued by this, netizens dug up old photographs that indicated the general possessed numerous expensive watches. At a rough count, he had at least 22 luxury wristwatches, with their combined worth estimated at more than Bt20 million.
Expensive diamond on his finger
Prawit was also pictured wearing a diamond ring, which again was not reported to the NACC in his asset declaration.
The general said the ring belonged to his parents and the watches were lent to him by a long-time collector friend. That friend, however, had already passed away, according to Prawit.
Public scrutiny intensified because Prawit is part of the coup-installed regime that had pledged to combat corruption.
Widespread disenchantment with the junta government grew after Prawit was allowed to remain in the Cabinet despite being under investigation.
Many observers said they were convinced the NACC would not rule the deputy PM guilty, as the agency is now chaired by his former close aide, Police General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit.
Watcharaphol, however, withdrew from the probe following criticism, in an attempt to show that the committee’s decision would be free from influence.
The press conference yesterday was held amid strict security. Political activist Ekachai Hongkangwan, who has held a string of symbolic protests challenging Prawit in the watch case, was banned from the press conference.
Earlier yesterday, Prawit maintained his story about the luxury wristwatches.
“Truth is the truth. I see no reason for people to attack me about this,” he told reporters.
The deputy premier reiterated that he had returned all the watches to their rightful owners, referring to the children of his “deceased friend”.
By Kas Chanwanpen