Graft probe leads to search of education official’s home

national March 24, 2018 01:00

By Piyanuch Thamnukasetchai
The Nation

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Documents relating to embezzlement of scholarship fund for poor kids retrieved The Nation

THE BANGKOK home of Education Ministry official Rojana Sinthee was searched yesterday morning as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of millions of baht from the Sema Pattana Chevit scholarship fund for underprivileged children.

Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) secretary-general Korntip Daroj led a search team to the C8-level official’s house in Don Muang district at 7am. 

A large number of documents from the fund were found in the house and also in her car, prompting suspicion that she might have planned to destroy them. 

More than 10 files were in the back of the car, along with two plastic bags filled with torn pages of fund documents.

Rojana earlier confessed to her supervisors that she had, over the course of 10 years, embezzled Bt88 million from the fund set up to help young people at risk of being lured into the sex trade. She faces a disciplinary probe that could result in her dismissal from civil service, possibly without a pension. 

Rojana allegedly transferred Bt18.8 million to other people’s bank accounts last year, which triggered the internal ministry probe that exposed the massive corruption. 

The ministry found that she had since 2008 siphoned off money from the fund’s annual budget of Bt10 million-Bt30 million and sent it to 22 bank accounts belonging to relatives and acquaintances, who then transferred it back to her. As assistant to the fund’s secretary, she allegedly falsified the names of recipients for scholarships. The ministry filed a police complaint against her for embezzlement and the case was passed on to the PACC. 

Yesterday search was conducted with a warrant from the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases, Korntip said. 

He said investigators would scrutinise the documents and Rojana’s computer. If further suspects were implicated, a PACC subcommittee would take action. 

The subcommittee is mulling charges against Rojana including forgery, misappropriation of assets, and wrongful behaviour damaging to a state agency.

Education Ministry inspector-general Athapol Truktrong, chair of the fact-finding panel into the case, said that a retrospect probe from 2000, when the fund was established with the initial budget of Bt600 million, had found that an additional Bt30 million was unaccounted for. But the panel could not yet confirm if it were linked to corruption. As for the alleged irregularities linked to Rojana, the panel had summoned her three times to provide information but she had declined citing a health problem. 

She didn’t show up to testify to the panel yesterday as previously scheduled, he said.

The panel is focusing on document evidence as they could be linked to the culprit(s), while testimonies from people are only to confirm the information, he added.