THE Court of Appeals yesterday sentenced former Bangkok governor Bhichit Rattakul to five years in prison in a corruption case, overriding a lower court’s acquittal.
The conviction was related to the purchase by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) of a plot of land at an inflated price.
The court concluded that evidence regarding the Bt270-million deal, which the BMA arranged between December 1995 and September 1997, showed that officials involved in the purchase got about Bt18 million in kickbacks.
The BMA bought the land in Bangkok’s Bang Sue district for use as a parking area for its garbage trucks, water trucks and other vehicles. Bhichit was serving as the Bangkok governor at the time of the purchase.
Public prosecutors have indicted eight defendants including Bhichit; Somkad Seubtrakul, who was Bhichit’s secretary when he was governor; and Chuan Pattanawaranont, then-director of the Bang Sue District Office.
In 2015, the Court of the First Instance rendered guilty verdicts against Somkad and Chuan, with the former being sentenced to eight years in jail for taking bribes and the latter receiving a 10-year jail term for bribery and abuse of authority. The court dropped cases against all the other defendants.
However, the Court of Appeals has now rejected the lower court’s verdict.
The ruling yesterday found that Bhichit was also guilty because he could not clearly explain how he had received bank deposits of Bt10 million after the BMA bought the land. It expressed disbelief over Bhichit’s claim that he had previously had the cash at home and then decided to deposit it.
The Court of Appeals also shortened the jail terms for both Somkad and Chuan based on their arguments that the initial penalties were harsh given that their offences had not caused direct damage to the BMA because the kickbacks had been paid by a broker.
Somkad’s jail term was reduced to five years while Chuan faces seven years.
All the three convicts were released on bail of Bt1-million each. As part of their conditions, they are barred from leaving Thailand.
After hearing the verdicts yesterday, Bhichit said it did not cause him any stress. “I will let lawyers work on the appeal to the Supreme Court,” the 70-year-old man said.
Born in 1946, Bhichit is the son of a former leader of the Democrat Party, Bhichai Rattakul.
He was elected as Bangkok governor with 768,994 votes in his favour on June 2, 1996, under the banner of the Working Ants Group. But when he ran for re-election in 2004, he lost after getting just 101,220 votes.
In 2006, he ran in an election but failed to win a seat for the Senate, and the following year he also failed when he ran for a seat as a Bangkok MP. In 2012, Bhichit was appointed president of |the University of Bangkok Metropolis, which is under BMA supervision.
Most recently, he occupied a seat on the National Environment Board.