IT WAS against anti-corruption laws for Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan to have borrowed luxury watches from his friends, legal experts claimed at a political seminar yesterday.
Anti-graft campaigner Veera Somkwamkid and law lecturer Ekachai Chainuvati said the law prohibited recipients of gifts or other benefits that were worth more than Bt3,000.
Violations of the law is punishable by up to a Bt60,000 fine and three years in jail, or both, in addition to a ban from politics, Ekachai said.
He said this violation had already occurred, given that Prawit, who is also Defence Minister, had already been seen wearing watches that he claimed had been lent to him by friends. Returning the watches to their owners could not possibly reverse the consequences of the law, Ekachai added.
Veera stressed that Prawit’s choice of watches was no private matter. As he is a minister, asset declaration and scrutiny were “part of the package”, the graft-buster said.
“I don’t think Prawit will survive this much pressure,” he said. “If he does survive, it means that he is prioritised above the country.”
The comment was made in a political seminar called “The People’s Time and Corruption 4.0”.
Prawit has been extensively criticised over the scandal involving fancy watches worth millions of baht.
Long-time graft-fighter Veera slammed the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for allegedly being biased in the case.
The agency’s secretary-general, Worawit Sukboon, has said that Prawit was not obliged to declare his possession of the watches unless they truly belonged to him. But the official has refused to disclose crucial details in the case.
Veera said the NACC could have revealed whether it would pursue Prawit for his possibly suspicious wealth and for possible misconduct regarding the ban on the receipt of gifts.
But, Ekachai added, Worawit’s remark could have pointed out a loophole for Prawit to exploit.
Ekachai also said the NACC should not have any trouble reporting progress on the case. The NACC law laid out such that such a transparent act was advisable.
Another pro-democracy activist on the panel, Siriwith Serithiwat, said society faced a double standard when it came to corruption. Although corruption was addressed as a pressing issue, scrutiny and punishment of corruption cases had always been discriminatory, he said.
Since 1997, the target for corruption cases had always been former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he said, and fraud accusations had become a political tool to destroy the Shinawatra camp.
“When we have this watch issue, now people say, ‘Prawit has done so much for the country, the watches are so trivial, just let him be’,” Siriwith said.
The activist said he had no problem with strict measures against the Shinawatras but he wanted equal treatment for all corrupt people.
“I have no problem about investigating the fraud in the [Yingluck Shinawatra government’s] rice-pledging scheme. But you should do the same to other issues, like the watches or the [corruption claims surrounding contracts for] Rajabhakti Park, too,” the activist added.
The seminar attracted about 50 people. It included a small exhibition showing Prawit’s entire watch collection and participants were invited to vote for their favourite one.
The event was observed by at least 20 policemen, including some in plain clothes.