The Director of the Pongsawan Wood Industry Co. which owned ฿600 million of seized wood ordered to be returned to it by the Supreme Court, Mr Khamsawai Prommachan, had lodged a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Division of the Royal Thai Police in February after the director of the government agency requested ฿2 million as a ‘return fee’ when the firm demanded that the agency comply with a Supreme Court order to return its property seized by officials in 2006.
The director of a provincial government agency was arrested by anti-corruption police in Mukdahan last Wednesday and faces dismissal from the civil service and criminal prosecution for trying to extort a bribe as well as malfeasance. Police swooped on a coffee shop near his office as ฿2 million was being paid over by a businessman in connection with a ฿600 million consignment of rosewood seized by his agency in 2006 after the Supreme Court had afterwards ordered it returned to its owners following a protracted legal case.
A disciplinary enquiry has been established at the Royal Forest Department after a senior official with the Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment in Mukdahan province was arrested by officers of the Royal Thai Police Anti-Corruption Division on Wednesday along with a 27-year-old accomplice who he had nominated to accept the bribe on his behalf.
The action against 56-year-old Suradej Akaraj came after police took the official into custody and seized ฿2 million in cash at a coffee shop near his office when police officers swooped on the rendezvous also attended by a businessman from Laos whom the agency head had been attempting to extort the money from.
Disciplinary enquiry commenced which could see 56-year-old Suradej Akaraj removed from the civil service while also facing criminal charges
Deputy Chief of the Royal Forest Bureau, Cheewapap Cheewatham, says that the official will now face disciplinary measures which could see him removed from his employment with the office and the civil service.
Mr Suradej, along with 27-year-old Kotchapan Saengwiroon, who he embroiled in the incident, was taken into custody by police for questioning as he also faces criminal charges of attempting to elicit a bribe and malfeasance in office.
In recent years, Thai courts have handed down significant jail sentences for such crimes as authorities in the kingdom attempt to tackle corruption at all levels and across a wide spectrum of government agencies and departments.
Arrest of the official dates back to 2006 and the seizure of ฿600 million of rosewood found in containers believed to have originated in Laos
The arrest of the 56-year-old dates back to the seizure in 2006 of rosewood or ‘phayung’ timber in containers.
Officials, at the time, thought to have included Mr Suradej, seized the wood believed to be owned by a firm in Laos as it did not have the appropriate clearance and was accompanied by documentation that they deemed false or insufficient.
A legal case ensued which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court which ordered that the wood be returned to its owners.
It is understood that this raised further difficulties as there were multiple claimants to ownership of the wood although 51-year-old Mr Khamsawai Prommachan of the Pongsawan Wood Industry Co persistently claimed it as a company-owned consignment valued at ฿600 million.
Anti-Corruption Division of the Royal Thai Police led the operation that took down the corrupt official
Details of the background to the case were given on Wednesday by Police Colonel Natnawit Sitthapirom of the counter-corruption division of the Royal Thai Police.
A range of agencies and officers were involved in Wednesday’s takedown including the Central Investigation Bureau led by Police Major General Panya Pinsu and the Anti-Corruption Division of the police.
It is understood that, in February, Mr Khamsawai, the director of the company that owned the timber, filed the complaint with the Anti-Corruption Division after Mr Suradej, the Director of the Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment refused to hand back the wood to his company stipulating the ฿2 million payment as essential first of all.
He told police that the senior official termed the payment a ‘return fee’ which was to be paid to him.
฿2 million in cash handed over at a coffee shop on Wednesday to a 27-year-old accomplice that Mr Suradej introduced at the last minute
On Wednesday, the director of the firm, Mr Khamsawai, brought with him ฿2 million in cash as agreed with Mr Suradej to the coffee shop.
However, the government official then insisted that the money be handed to 27-year-old Ms Kotchapan who was summoned to the coffee shop to collect the money on his behalf.
As soon as the money was handed over, officers swooped and arrested both Mr Suradej and Ms Kotchapan as an accomplice after verifying the cash.
It is understood that the company director had marked the cash before paying it over to the government official and alerting police that the illicit transaction was confirmed to take place.