Probe into Army park

national November 11, 2015 01:00

By THE NATION

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Irregularities at Rajabhakti Park dealt with, General Udomdej says



IRREGULARITIES in the Rajabhakti Park project have been dealt with and can be explained, Deputy Defence Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr said yesterday. 

“All panels involved are ready to answer all questions,” Udomdej said in his capacity as chair of the Rajabhakti Park Foundation and former Army chief.
Udomdej spoke up after deputy police spokesman Maj-General Piyaphan Pingmuang told media on Monday that an investigation was ongoing to determine whether Pol Colonel Kachachart Boondee, who is facing an arrest warrant over lese majeste charges, was involved in alleged irregularities in the Rajabhakti Park project.
Rajabhakti Park, in Hua Hin, has emerged as an important landmark. Officially launched in late September, it features giant statues of seven former Thai kings. 
The Army spent about Bt1 billion in developing the park, which also includes a multi-purpose plaza and a museum about Thai kings. 
A source at the National Anti-Corruption Commission said yesterday it was unlikely to look into alleged irregularities at Rajabhakti Park because it did not involve state funding. “The project was funded by donations,” the source said. 
Udomdej said yesterday that the project started off with the intention of creating a facility for Thais to use. 
“In the beginning, there was a committee in charge of this project,” he explained. 
According to Udomdej, Deputy Education Minister Lt-General Surachet Chaiwong headed the committee at that time. It set up several panels to help with its work.
Udomdej admitted some problems had emerged during implementation of the project, but insisted yesterday that they had already been resolved. “All panels are ready to provide explanations to relevant officials,” he said. 
He said the Rajabhakti Park Foundation was established only recently and he was its ex-officio chairman. “The management of the foundation is in transition. I am in the process of passing on the post and job responsibility at the foundation to the new Army chief.” 
Asked about reports that a famous amulet expert had sought kickbacks from foundries working on the project, Udomdej said officials had heard about the problem and had intervened. 
Udomdej suggested that after the “intervention”, the foundries had turned the kickbacks into donations. “I don’t know the exact details. But definitely the Army’s Finance Department has all the records.” 
He refused to comment on Kachachart, a staff officer with the Third Army region, who had stopped coming to work in the wake of a high-profile lese majeste case involving Suriyan Sujaritpolwong. 
Asked about Kachachart, Udomdej said: “Don’t talk about him here. Investigation against him has already been going on.” 
A source said an investigation team had invited construction firms involved in the Rajabhakti Park project to provide information. “We are gathering evidence.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said Udomdej had assured him the project was not mired in corruption and was ready to clarify all issues to facilitate the ongoing investigation. 
PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha said the probe would nail culprits, if any. “But if the investigation is not yet concluded, don’t point a finger.” 
Prayut dismissed speculation about a detention centre inside a military base in Bangkok because of two recent deaths of lese majeste suspects, including Suriyan, who died while in custody. “Let’s listen to doctors’ explanations,” he said. Doctors have said Suriyan died of a blood infection.