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Court orders Pracha, Samak's family to pay damages in BMA fire-vehicle purchase

Fugitive former deputy interior minister Pracha Maleenont and the heirs of late former Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej were yesterday ordered by the Central Administrative Court each to pay Bt587 million to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to cover the losses caused by the procurement of fire trucks nine years ago.

The court ordered Khunying Surat Sundaravej and Pracha to pay 30 per cent of the Bt1.958 billion the BMA has already paid to Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch. The BMA's payment went towards the Bt6.68-billion purchase of 315 fire trucks and 30 boats in July 2004.

Samak's twin daughters Kanchanakorn Chaiyalarp and Kandapha Mungthin, along with their mother Surat, have jointly been held responsible for the payment.

Pracha, who is fleeing a 12-year jail sentence handed down in another court verdict, and Samak's family are also subject to 7.5-per-cent interest on a yearly basis retroactively to when the BMA first paid the Austrian firm.

The court did not find Samak's successor Apirak Kosayodhin liable for any payments.

Also yesterday, former commerce minister Watana Muangsook won an appeal against the BMA's demand that he pay an unspecified sum for allegedly amending regulations to make a barter agreement to pay for the fire trucks with chickens or other farm products. He was initially indicted on these charges by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The judges said there was not enough evidence to prove the allegations.

The Central Administrative Court yesterday ruled that Samak, in his capacity as former Bangkok governor, and former senior BMA official Athilak Tanchookiat had collaborated to rush the contract through before Samak completed his term.

The contract was signed even though it had not been scrutinised by the Office of the Attorney-General, which is normal practice in purchases of this sort.

The fire equipment has been confiscated as evidence after arriving in 2006 and is now in ruins. The BMA later suspended the contract after finding that fire engines were defective and that their prices were highly inflated.

Meanwhile, Samak's family and Pracha still have a chance to file an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court.

Last year, the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions found Athilak, then director of the BMA Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department, guilty of altering specifications of the fire vehicles and boats. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The Supreme Court found that Pracha and Athilak had pushed for the purchase without comparing prices, which allowed the Austrian company to sell the vehicles at a price that was found to be nearly 49 per cent higher than it would have been if bought locally.

The purchase deal was signed while Samak was Bangkok governor between July 2000 and August 2004, but the Supreme Court dropped charges against him after his death in 2009. Apparently, Samak signed the deal on August 27, 2004 - his last day as governor - before the gubernatorial elections were held two days later.


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