Wallop Bhukkanasut was employed by Thai Airways in senior roles before becoming Chairman in April 2009. His tenure was short-lived, brought to a crashing halt after a controversy erupted in December that year when staff and unions at the airline called for him to resign over the incident which saw him sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday.
A criminal court has jailed former Chairman of Thai Airways International, Wallop Bhukkanasut, for abusing his authority on a flight from Tokyo to Bangkok in November 2009 when he ordered staff to under-declare his baggage weight to evade a substantial excess luggage fee.
The former Chairman of the Board of Thai Airways International was sentenced to two years imprisonment on Wednesday by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct in Bangkok.
The court did not suspend the sentence against Mr Wallop after it convicted him on charges brought by the National Anti Corruption Commission. He was accused of breaching Section 11 of the Act regulating the behaviour of officials attached to state organisations or agencies.
Thai Airways was a state enterprise before it lost that status in May this year just prior to bankruptcy
Thai Airways ceased to be a state organisation before its filing for bankruptcy before the Bankruptcy Court at the end of May this year. It was on this basis that the National Anti Corruption Commission intervened to file charges against the former high flying executive on which the court handed down its judgment.
The charges related to an incident on November 14th 2009 when Mr Wallop and his wife flew back from Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan with first-class tickets aboard flight TG 677 to Bangkok. The couple were allowed up to 120 kg of free luggage with their top-tier tickets.
Baggage being carried was 260 kg above the couple’s shared allowance of 120 kg with first-class tickets
However, it transpired that Mr Wallop and his wife were carrying at least 380 kg of luggage and therefore a charge was suggested for 260 kg which would have amounted to hundreds of thousands of baht.
The court, on Wednesday, found that Mr Wallop had abused his authority as Chairman by instructing staff to file the weight of the couple’s luggage incorrectly to avoid the charge.
Executive abused his authority as Chairman
The court’s judgement found that Mr Wallop had abused his authority in ordering airline staff to underreport the weight both he and his wife were carrying on the flight.
The former Thai Airways boss was in court to hear the verdict and judgement. He had been on bail.
Controversy erupted in December 2009
The incident blew up into a national controversy in December 2009 with angry calls for the resignation of Mr Wallop from Thai Airways coming from staff and unions at the airline who, at one point, ordered staff to wear black to protest and signify their outrage at his actions.
He resigned from his position not long after in 2010.
A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Mr Wallop was a senior executive in Thai Airways for many years in a range of leading positions linked with commercial operations, sales and marketing.
In 2003, he oversaw a major cost-cutting operation at the airline.
Also charged with receiving prohibited gifts
The charges, before the court on Wednesday, also included being in receipt of gifts or donations over ฿3,000 including fruit and Kobe beef.
At the time of the controversy, Mr Wallop had argued that while his luggage was overweight, it contained fruit offerings which he was proposing to donate to local Buddhist temples in Thailand.
Thai Airways got the green light from the Central Bankruptcy Court in September to craft a survival plan
In mid-September, the Central Bankruptcy Court in Bangkok gave the go-ahead for Thai Airways to formalise its business reorganisation plan which is expected to be presented before the end of the year.
The court granted creditors a limited time frame in which to file for payment of debts owed by the firm following the formal announcement of the order in Thailand’s official Royal Gazette.
The bankruptcy and reorganisation have already seen extensive job losses. This started with 30% of the workforce or 6,000 workers being offered redundancy in May with 10 months salary as a lump sum payment.
Since then, staff have been on severely reduced levels of payment due to both the company’s internal crisis and the Covid-19 emergency.
It is reported that 1,900 workers will take early retirement from December this year while a further 2,700 are on six months leave with a payment equivalent to 20% of salary.
Reports are that management is looking at the retraining and redeployment of existing staff as it prepares for a low cost and streamlined operation with its new business plan.
The airline is also reported to be in the process of selling or disposing of up to 34 aircraft.
Reduced services with survival plan due soon
Once Thailand’s flagship carrier, Thai Airways grounded most of its fleet in the aftermath of the Covid 19 emergency and is now flying an abridged schedule based on repatriation flights to Thailand and limited connections to Europe, Asia and Australia under new stricter access criteria for visitors planning to enter the kingdom.
It is thought that a meeting of creditors of the airline will take place in early 2021 to approve the survival plan currently being crafted and finalised by a team appointed by the court in Bangkok.