Ministry of Agriculture faces turmoil as Minister Thamanat vows silence on key suspect. Fire at ministry sparks controversy; police rule out foul play. Spokeswoman defends transparency amid corruption allegations. Minister dismisses concerns over lost documents. Tensions rise in government coalition as extortion probe unfolds.

Over the weekend, the Minister of Agriculture Thamanat Prompow told reporters that he refuses, from this moment, to discuss one of the accused arrested by police over a huge extortion scandal linked to his ministry. On Saturday, a spokeswoman for the ministry told reporters that the Agriculture Ministry was committed to transparency as a principle of government, especially under Minister Thamanat’s leadership. At the same time, she warned against spreading misinformation about the growing controversy. On Sunday, police forensic experts in Bangkok categorically confirmed that a fire which broke out at the ministry building on Saturday was not suspicious.

A spokeswoman for Minister of Agriculture Thamanat Prompow, Ms Ayarin Panrit, addressed the media on Saturday. At length, she explained the ministry had to protect public confidence. She said it would act against misinformation. Ms Ayarin, at the same time, heralded transparency at the ministry, especially the access available to the senior minister. Afterwards, Mr Thamanat himself (inset left) told reporters that he refused to comment on one of the accused arrested as part of the widening extortion probe swirling around his ministry. Later, police ruled as not suspicious a fire at the ministry building in Bangkok on Saturday evening (inset right).

Tensions within the coalition are currently rising as the police investigation into an extortion network within the wider government continues its work.

A freak fire at the Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry at the centre of the affair, over the weekend, added to the rumour mills.

However, police on Sunday definitively ruled the incident as not suspicious.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin did not hide his concern about the growing controversy on Saturday. At the same time, he said police must do their work 

On Saturday, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin flew to Sri Lanka to sign a free trade pact. At Don Mueang Airport, however, he made no secret to reporters about the gravity of the situation. 

At the same time, he emphasised the need to make room for the Royal Thai Police to work freely. In brief, he felt strongly that anyone involved in the activity should be properly prosecuted.

The activities involving the extortion of officials were impossible to tolerate.

Similarly, on Saturday, Ms Ayarin Panrit, a spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Mr Thamanat Prompow, addressed allegations of corruption within the ministry.

She emphasised the ministry’s commitment to transparency and accountability. 

Minister’s spokeswoman came out this weekend to acknowledge the situation and the approach being taken by him to the scandal and the ongoing police probe

The term ‘salt as a worm’ was used, warning against false information leveraged against innocent officials for personal gain.

Ms Ayran explained: ‘The minister is not afraid of ‘salt as a worm’ but is careful that it will revert to using false information or bullying for personal gain.’

Significantly, she insisted the ministry was prepared to prosecute anyone spreading false information. She underlined the seriousness of the matter.

Amid concerns, Ms Ayarin highlighted the challenges faced by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The spokeswoman heralded it as a government office open to citizens and various groups. In addition, she repeatedly referred to the current minister, Mr Thamanat and what she terms his ‘era’ in charge.

In particular, she declared that the current minister and his two deputies stood for transparency in government.

Open policy means the ministry entertains many strangers and visitors. This minister seeks input from all parties including farmers and interested citizens 

She referred to the constant flow of people, including activists and complainants, who regularly visit the ministry and Mr Thamanat. In turn, she noted that this makes it difficult to track daily interactions with ministers.

‘The Ministry of Agriculture takes care of all problems related to farmers, and citizens are encouraged to submit complaints as part of the ministry’s policy,’ Ms Ayarin explained.

The ministry adhered to the principle of transparent government administration, she disclosed. This was in view of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s governance values.

Regarding recent incidents, Ms Ayarin was confident the ongoing investigation would progress into the allegations. However, she noted that this should be conducted fairly and with regard to due process.

‘There is more clear evidence, and an emphasis on fairness to everyone. This is the duty of the justice process to proceed in accordance with the law,’ she said.

Must be confident in the ministry so as not to undermine the government or the morale of officials. The ministry will take action against misinformation

The ministry urged citizens and the media, at this time, to have confidence in its leadership.

In short, she emphasised that officials follow policies to benefit the people and the nation. 

Ms Ayarin, however, warned about activities aimed at damaging the ministry’s reputation. At the same time, she expressed concern about undermining the morale of its civil servants.

On Saturday, a fire broke out at the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives building. It occurred in a kitchen area near a conference suite used by junior minister Chaiya Promma. 

Police probe into fire at the Ministry which broke out on Saturday evening on the second floor. No important documents destroyed and it was not suspicious

The building is located on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Phra Nakhon. 20 square metres were destroyed on the second floor.

Afterwards, Police Lieutenant General Trairong Phiwpan, Head of the Police Forensic Science division, confirmed that evidence was carefully analysed. 

In addition, Mr Chaiya confirmed that no documents were destroyed in the fire. At length, this came after surveying his office near the where the conflagration broke out.

However, the event naturally raised concerns about the loss of important documents related to the corruption probe. 

Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow dismissed such fears outright. Emphatically, he was clear that crucial documents were not in the affected area.

Forensic police investigating the cause of the fire, on Sunday, also ruled out political foul play.

Hot words from minister after being questioned about comments made by Mr Yaswaris, one of those charged in the extortion plot after a press conference 

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Minister Thamanat had some hot words for people engaged in the police trawl.

In particular, he addressed allegations related to Mr Yaswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokjik.

Mr Yaswaris was arrested on Friday, January 26 at Government House after activist Srisuwan Janya. He has been charged in connection with the extortion plot.

Yaswaris or Jeng Dokjik forcefully declared his innocence to the press. Simultaneously, he cursed anyone telling lies or making false claims against him
Political shock. Activist Srisuwan arrested in police swoop, plainclothes officers at Government House

Ms Yoswaris gave a high-profile press conference last week. In short, he proclaimed his innocence. In addition, he vowed to curse those who impugned his name.

The former political figure was associated previously with the United Thai Nation Party (UTN) and before that with the Pheu Thai Party.

The minister was quizzed about comments made by Mr Yaswaris.

In particular about Mr Yawaris’s interactions with the victim in the case, a senior ministry official. Minister Thamanat was clear.

The person concerned was neither an official of the ministry nor had he any authorisation. The minister said the matter was now being probed officially.

Minister spoke of ‘trash of society’ making claims

He told reporters he would not discuss the same individual again or his comments. Thamanat said he refused to engage further in relation to that matter in particular.

Afterwards, he urged reporters not to give importance to individuals he deemed the ‘trash of society’ who made spurious claims. He emphasised that proper authorities were currently examining the matter. 

In the meantime, he said he was confident in the Ministry of Agriculture’s commitment to addressing citizens’ needs.

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Further reading:

Massive extortion network within the government itself now probed by police after Srisuwan’s arrest

Political shock. Activist Srisuwan arrested in police swoop, plainclothes officers at Government House

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