The court ruled that the MP and cabinet minister has not been convicted or sentenced for an applicable offence in Thailand and therefore his election as an MP was valid as was his appointment as a cabinet minister by the Prime Minister in July 2019.
The Thai Constitutional Court, on Wednesday, confirmed the position of the Phayao MP and Deputy Minister of Agriculture in his position following a review sought by opposition MPs in parliament after the minister was the subject of an international news exposé by an Australian newspaper in 2019 which identified him as a key player in an alleged drug-smuggling operation that was smashed by police in 1993 in the Bondi Beach area of Sydney. The court ruled that only criminal acts and prison sentences handed down in Thailand could influence the status of a Thai politician under the applicable sections of the 2017 Thai constitution.
The Constitutional Court on Wednesday confirmed the status of controversial Palang Pracharat Party MP and cabinet minister Thamanat Prompow following a case that was referred to it by the House Speaker Chuan Leekpai and which was taken up by the court in June last year.
The background to the case was a bombshell revelation and newspaper report in September 2019 by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper which revealed the role of the minister in an alleged multi-million dollar heroin smuggling operation which led to his arrest in the Bondi Beach area of Sydney in April 1993 when the minister, then using the name Mr Manat Bophlom, was arrested and later sentenced to 4 years and eight months in prison.
Cabinet minister admitted that he was linked to the drugs bust but denied committing any crime
Captain Thamanat, known by his former rank in the Royal Thai Army, has consistently denied the accuracy of the foreign media reports while admitting that he was linked with the case.
He denied that he was guilty of the crimes alleged or that he had served a sentence in an Australian prison explaining that he had some unorthodox arrangement with authorities.
The case before the Constitutional Court, however, is understood to have not been involved in examining the facts of the matter but the applicable law relating to the status of Captain Thamanat as an MP for Phayao province and a cabinet minister.
The court reviewed Sections 98 and 101 of the constitution regarding his MP status and his position as a cabinet minister under Sections 98, 160 and 170.
Move to have the top court review the minister’s status instigated by opposition MPs in parliament
Section 98 prohibits anyone standing for election who has been sent to prison except for a petty matter while Section 101 deals with detailing grounds to remove a sitting MP.
Section 160 prohibits a person who has been sent to prison from holding ministerial office except on the grounds of negligence, defamation or for a petty offence while Section 170 deals with grounds for removal of a minister which, in this case, would have been Section 160.
The instigation of the court review came from opposition parties and MPs within the House of Representatives who petitioned the House Speaker.
It is reported that over 51 MPs signed the petition although some opposition MPs reportedly had a change of heart at the last minute on the matter which is indicative of the minister’s powerful influence in the political arena.
Strong parliamentary performer with well-honed organisational and political skills is a wealthy man
Captain Thamanat is known to be an effective parliamentarian and organiser within the Palang Pracharat Party who supported the movement to install Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan as leader of the largest government party in 2020.
He has also been instrumental in several crucial by-election wins for the Palang Pracharat Party.
This has been attributed to the controversial cabinet minister’s innate ability to communicate politically and his well-honed organisational skills.
The leading 55-year-old politician is also reported to be a wealthy man with a declaration of assets in August 2019 showing a net worth of up to ฿ 1 billion and ownership of a Rolls Royce and Bentley car.
Minister tipped for promotion in recent reshuffles
Indeed, the cabinet minister was initially tipped as Minister of Labour in the democratically elected government formed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in July 2019 after that year’s General Election before questions began to swirl about his past.
He was later confirmed as Deputy Minister of Agriculture such is his value to the government.
He has been tipped, in two recent reshuffles in 2020 and 2021, for promotion even in the aftermath of the international newspaper coverage that was triggered by the newspaper article published in September 2019 which was later followed up with supporting articles reproducing court documents and transcripts linked with the drugs case and his life in Australia from 1993 to 1997 after which he returned to Thailand.
Name withdrawn by the PM last weekend as a vaccination coordinator for the southern provinces
Last weekend, his name was withdrawn by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha as the regional coordinator for the country’s crucial vaccination drive in the southern provinces of Phuket, Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat after the move drew an unusually firm objection from the leader of the Democrat Party, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, Jurin Laksanawisit.
The junior coalition partner is understood to have felt that the move to catapult Captain Thamanat into the role in the region could have had political ramifications for its support in the South, long considered a traditional stronghold of the kingdom’s oldest political party.
Clear and decisive ruling on the matter
On Wednesday, the decision of the court was clear and decisive.
It ruled that the sentence handed down to Captain Thamanat by an Australian court in Sydney, New South Wales could not be considered as a determining factor under Thai law and the applicable restrictions placed under the terms of the 2017 constitution.
The court ruled that only a prison term or sanction handed down by a Thai court concerning a criminal offence could be considered under the charter.
On this basis, it saw no impediment to Captain Thamanat’s continued tenure as an MP and cabinet minister.