Court could remove the Deputy Minister of Agriculture as an MP under Section 98 (10) of the 2017 Constitution if it accepts that he was indeed convicted and sentenced by an Australian court and that such a conviction holds weight or is applicable under Thai law. Captain Thamanat Prompow, however, has consistently denied the claims made last year by Sydney based newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald about his past life from 1993 to 1997.
Controversial junior minister and key fixer in parliament for the coalition government, Captain Thamanat Prompow, has been given 15 days by the Constitutional Court in Bangkok to respond to a petition taken up by the court on Wednesday seeking to review his status in office because of his alleged past as a convicted drug smuggler in Australia.
Thailand’s Constitutional Court has taken up a case which seeks to review the status of the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Thamanat Prompow, on the basis of his conviction for drug smuggling before an Australian Court in 1994.
The value of the drugs involved at that time was $4.1 million.
Last year, the Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, published the story detailing the arrest of Mr Manat Bophlom and others in 1993 for heroin smuggling including his subsequent conviction and prison sentence served at a Sydney prison.
Minister was formerly known as Manat Bophlom
Manat Bophlom, an army officer, was the identity formerly used by Captain Thamanat Prompow before he changed it after his return to Thailand in 1997 where he had been held by Australian authorities for four years and six months.
The Australian newspaper later produced court documents from the 10th of March 1995 to substantiate the claims made against Mr Thamanat.
This was the judgment in an appeal lodged by Mr Thamanat and delivered by the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal on that date.
Bangkok court accepted the petition of House of Representatives Speaker, Chuan Leekpai
On Wednesday, in Bangkok, the Thai Constitutional Court said it would accept a petition lodged by the Speaker of the Thai House of Representatives, Chuan Leekpai, to look at the matter.
The issue being considered is whether Mr Thamanat is a fit person under Thai law to serve as an MP or minister based on his criminal conviction and jail record in Australia.
The Thai Consitution of 2017 under Section 98 (10) states that a person is prohibited from standing for election as a Member of the House of Representatives if they have been convicted of a criminal offence under the law.
Minster has been a consistent target of the opposition in parliament since the allegations went public
Since the controversy arose last year, Mr Thamanat has become a lightning rod for critics of the Thai government and the parliamentary opposition.
However, this has not thwarted him in his political career.
He is also seen as an influential figure in the Thai parliament where he leads a group of northern MPs that support the government.
His supporters suggest that whatever happened was a long time ago, did not happen in Thailand and should not be magnified out of proportion.
They also support his denials of the story published by the Australian newspaper last September.
They agree with Captain Thamanat’s claims that he is the victim of a conspiracy to topple the Thai government.
Captain Thamanat has argued in parliament that his role in Australia was that of a witness for Australian authorities causing him to be placed in protective custody.
He has also been criticised, in recent times, over his educational qualifications and the authenticity of the doctorate which he holds.
Deputy PM Wissanu last year appeared to uphold Mr Thamanat’s status observing he had never been convicted of a criminal offence in Thailand
Last year, during the formation of the government, the Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, tasked with vetting ministers being considered for cabinet portfolios, told the media that there was no impediment to Captain Thamanat’s participation in the government as he had never been convicted of a criminal offence before a Thai court.
Thamanat has vowed to fight the move
Captain Thamanat, on May 27th last, promised to fight such a move vigorously.
He has consistently denied that he was convicted of drug dealing in Australia or that he served a prison sentence there.
He now has 15 days to present his arguments to the court for consideration of the matter.
The current move against Captain Thamanat has been driven by the opposition Move Forward Party in the Thai parliament which consists of former Future Forward Party MPs led by Bangkok MP, Pita Limjaroenrat.