‘To those who accused me of receiving benefits, I insist that I never received a single baht. I don’t want any involvement with dirty money. I will receive only my lawful benefits,’ said Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on Tuesday as he passionately defended himself and his ministry from an opposition onslaught as part of the censure motion which is to run until Saturday the 20th February. The PM called for unity in the face of the stiff economic challenge that lies before the country.
The Thai Prime Minister, on Tuesday, played two clips on his smartphone amid tense exchanges as the opening of the censure motion against his government got underway with claims from the opposition that he may have indirectly benefited from underground illegal gambling operations. In a robust and strong denial of the claims, Prayut Chan ocha urged MPs not to unfairly defame him and exhibited two online media reports to illustrate what he called a ‘distortion’ of things he had said. He categorically denied receiving anything but what was legitimately due to him and said he had been at the forefront of an ongoing crackdown on illegal gambling including corrupt officials on the take.
The Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, made an impassioned plea to parliament on Tuesday for members not to unfairly defame him after the leader of the opposition Seri Ruam Thai Party, Police General Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, referred to a media piece and appeared to link the PM to the kingdom’s network of illegal gambling dens blamed by officials, business interests and the public for contributing to the second wave of the Covid-19 virus which has setback economic recovery efforts.
In a dramatic piece of theatre in front of the parliament, a confident PM produced his smartphone and played a clip of the controversial news report referred to by the former policeman and now opposition party leader.
General Prayut then played another clip from an earlier news report on Saturday last, the 13th of February, in which he gave an interview to the media.
Is this a distortion?
He claimed the latter media clip had distorted what he said. ‘Is this a distortion? It is one of several examples of distortions. Words were doctored to make them look bad. Everything will eventually be revealed,’ he warned.
Earlier, he told the opposition he had personally ordered a crackdown by the Royal Thai Police which has seen no less than 51 senior police officers with the rank of commander or deputy commander, being transferred from their posts.
He said up to 78,000 people had been arrested between 2018 and 2020 by police upholding the country’s strict prohibition on gambling under the 1935 Gambling Act.
Government crackdown on illegal gambling continues with cases across the kingdom being prosecuted
General Prayut said, right now, cases are being pursued against gambling den operators in Rayong, Chonburi, Chanthaburi, Trat, Samut Prakan, Nonthaburi and Sukhothai including some cases involving illegal cockfighting.
The Prime Minister, on the other hand, warned that the nature of gambling and those who provide such services to the public has changed and this has required the government to keep up.
PM says he urged police to go after kingpins and corrupt officials instead of just players
He told members of parliament, while on his watch, he had insisted that police agencies go after not just gamblers found in dens which were raided but those who operated them and especially corrupt officials who facilitated them.
‘I believe past and present governments tried to do their best. But nowadays, gambling and related offences are becoming more complicated. I wondered why only gamblers were arrested. So I laid down a policy for officials to arrest investors and those who are behind these gambling networks,’ he said.
He also drew attention to the establishment by his government of the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) to protect the public against new online threats including online gambling operations.
Special panel going about its work
He revealed he had drawn up a special panel to investigate the phenomenon of illegal gambling reporting directly to him and it was currently going about its work including recommending the prosecution of gambling operators and officials involved.
He promised government officials including the senior police officers already removed from duty would face serious charges if they are found to be guilty of wrongdoing.
‘Don’t Defame me’ says Prayut telling opposition members they have no evidence to make such claims
General Prayut then implored the opposition members to be careful of unfairly besmirching him while pursuing political ends.
‘You have to find evidence and witnesses and take the case to court to prove the veracity of your allegations,’ he told the benches. ‘I have no vested interests. Don’t accuse me of receiving benefits. Sue me and prove it, if that is true. If it’s not true, I’ll also fight back. Don’t defame me.’
He then categorically, and not for the first time, rejected any claims he had received illicit financial support linked to gambling or any illegal activities saying he only received what is due to him legitimately.
‘To those who accused me of receiving benefits, I insist that I never received a single baht. I don’t want any involvement with dirty money. I will receive only my lawful benefits,’ he asserted.
Opposition leader described the current government as the worst the country has ever seen
Earlier, at the opening of the no-confidence motion and censure debate on the government, which is to run until Saturday and which opposition sources are promising will be a ‘scorcher’, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Sompong Amornvivat, described the government as the worst the kingdom has ever seen.
He went on to accuse the government of Prayut Chan ocha of mishandling the Covid-19 pandemic response and damaging the country’s economy in the singular pursuit of staying in power.
‘This prime minister’s administration has worsened the economy and people’s quality of life. This is the worst government this country has ever seen,’ he declared. ‘The people want a prime minister who cares more about them more than he does about retaining his power.’
PM says the country is better off than others as it makes its way through the ongoing Covid-19 crisis
Defending his ministry, General Prayut accepted this was a tough time for the country and called for unity in the face of the economic challenge which he acknowledged was a stiff one.
The government leader said his detractors should look to other countries around the world and claimed Thailand was better off.
‘For those who accuse me of making the economy worse, they should take a look around and see how the global economy and regional economy are,’ he said. ‘In many aspects, we are better than them.’