BANGKOK – Thailand’s Supreme Court has sentenced former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to 42 years in jail and his former deputy Poom Sarapol to 36 years in the government-to-government rice sales case.
The court denied their bail requests, as well as those of other defendants in the case, citing the gravity of the crimes.
Manas Soiploy, former chief of the Foreign Trade Department, was sentenced to 40 years in prison while his deputy Tikhumporn Natvaratat got 32 years. Akharapong Theepwatchara, ex-director of the department’s Rice Trade Administration Bureau, got 24 years.
Apichart Chansakulporn, an executive of the rice exporter Siam Indica Co Ltd, was sentenced to 48 years. Along with his company, he was also ordered to pay 16.9 billion baht in damages to the Finance Ministry.
Other defendants also got jail terms and had to pay damages in proportion to their crimes as well.
Eight of all 28 defendants were acquitted. Two of the defendants reportedly fled so their sentences were not read on Friday.
After the ruling, the defendants were taken to Bangkok Remand Prison in Chatuchak district. The court later denied their bail requests.
Chutichai Sakakorn, a prosecutor in the case, said the public prosecutors did not oppose the bail. He also said his team would review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal the acquittals and the damages, which were lower than what they had suggested.
Narin Somnuek, Boonsong’s lawyer, said his client would appeal the ruling within 30 days without the need for new evidence as allowed under the 2017 Constitution. If approved, the same court will decide the case by a panel of different judges. In previous charters, politicians could not appeal the rulings of the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions.
According to a statement on the ruling issued by the court, in the past G-to-G rice sales to China had been done through China National Cereals, Oil and Foodstuff Import Export Corporation (Cofco).
But the rice sales panel chaired by Poom during the Yingluck Shinawatra government changed the G-to-G definition to include sales to other state enterprises and use ex-factory prices instead, the statement said.
Poom later approved two sales contracts for 5.2 million tonnes with two Chinese provincial state enterprises not authorised by Beijing. Boonsong later took over as chairman of the panel and signed another two contracts to sell another 2.4 million tonnes.
All in all, the four contracts causes damages of around 17 billion baht, the statement said.
The ruling said there were irregularities involving the four contracts.
“Payments were made in cashier cheques. Buyers could resell the grain to a third country. The contracts were amended to change the rice types and amounts without bargaining to ensure the changes were in the best interest of the country.
“After the sales, payments were made in hundreds of cashier cheques in the country and an authorised Thai company took delivery of the grain and sold it to local rice traders without shipping it to China or other countries,” the statement said.
“Mr Poom, Mr Boonsong, Mr Apichart and others brought the two provincial state enterprises to buy rice from the Foreign Trade Department, saying they were authorised by Beijing, at low prices without competition.
“When rice market price fell, the enterprises did not take delivery as specified in the contracts. Instead, they asked to change the contracts so they could buy the same type of grain at lower prices,” the ruling said.
The rice sale policy supervised by Boonsong did not call bids locally, resulting in shortages. Traders could not find enough supply and were forced to buy from companies related to Apichart.
“The court found the companies who bought rice from Mr Apichart did so without knowing it came from the illegal contracts so they were not guilty as charged.”
Source: Bangkok Post