HUA HIN – Thailand’s military has launched yet another investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding seven giant statues, just days after clearing itself of wrongdoing.
The 14-metre-tall statues of former Thai kings were built on military-owned land in the seaside town of Hua Hin, 200 kilometres south of Bangkok.
The Rajabhakti Park project was funded by donations from businesses and citizens, but managed by the military, which seized control of the country in a coup last year.
Each statue cost around $1.7 million and allegations have emerged of kickbacks and inflated costs.
“If people were honest I believe it would be such a great project,” said former national police chief Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, who has a reputation as an outspoken graft-buster.
“But as it is, no one will want to donate money any more as there is corruption involved … I wouldn’t donate, you wouldn’t want to donate.”
The corruption allegations centre on commissions demanded from several different foundries who built the brass statues, reportedly by an amulet trader who has since reportedly fled to Hong Kong.
In addition, the army has been repeatedly asked about the costs involved, with $11,000 worth of donations assigned to a single palm tree and a seat at a fundraising Chinese banquet costing $38,000, according to local media.
The allegations were rejected after a one-week investigation by the military.
“There is no corruption,” said army commander, General Theerachai Nakvanich.
“If there are people taking benefit from this project and we find out we will proceed without exception.”
However, many Thais remain suspicious.
Members of an activist group called Resistant Citizens have lodged an official complaint with police.
“The relevant authorities — like the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Auditor General — have done nothing because nobody filed a complaint,” Pansak Srithep said.
“Now there is one, so please proceed,” said Mr Pansak, as he handed over the documents to police.
His son was shot dead during a 2010 military crackdown on protesters.
Thailand remains under the control of the military after last year’s coup and there’s little room for dissent but this case will not go away.
The military has announced a second investigation will take place but it will be overseen by the brother of Thailand’s military ruler, General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
That is not the greater transparency many were hoping for.
“If you are honest, if you are not addicted to power, if you are doing your best, then let people investigate, you should not be afraid,” said police chief Sereepisuth.
Two of the key suspects may have reportedly fled the country — the amulet dealer and a soldier — but other senior figures implicated remain in positions of power.
The calls for action coming from the Thai media and public are getting louder.