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Democrats to seek info from China

Embassy to be asked to verify details of order for purchase of rice

China is getting caught in the political rivalry in Thailand over a rice deal between the two countries as the opposition Democrat Party plans to ask the Chinese Embassy here to verify a 5,000-tonne rice purchase order placed by a China-registered company.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said yesterday that the party would send an official query to the Chinese Embassy to ask whether the Chinese government had ordered the rice from Thailand, with GSSG Import & Export Corporation representing it for the purchase from Thailand, as had been claimed by the government.

"We want the embassy to clearly answer all the questions. We don't want the [Thai] government to use China as its tool for corruption," Chavanond said. "The Chinese government should tell the truth about this matter."

The Chinese Embassy, when contacted by The Nation yesterday, said it had no information about GSSG Import & Export. It gave no further comment on the so-called government-to-government rice deal between the two countries.

The rice deal erupted in controversy after the opposition accused the government during the censure debate on Monday of creating a ghost company to purchase a lot of rice from the government to benefit its close associates.

In response, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom insisted strongly that the government did indeed sell rice as part of a government-to-government contract. All rice exports are verified by the Foreign Trade Department while the buyers are verified by the embassy, he said, adding that those involved in the deal are government agencies, not a Chinese company as alleged by the opposition.

Anti-Money Laundering Office secretary-general Seehanat Prayoonrat yesterday said AMLO was ready to investigate complaints regarding the rice deal to be submitted by the opposition.

He added that the agency had followed the censure debate but that it could act only after a complaint was filed.

However, he clarified that AMLO could not confiscate or freeze assets of the persons named by the opposition. For that to happen, it would need an indictment by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

"As long as the NACC has not clearly indicted [the suspects involved in irregularities], AMLO can only investigate via transaction reports from financial institutions. We can do nothing more yet as they might be just normal transactions," he said.

According to the Democrats, the rice purchase - supposed to be part of a government-to-government contract - was done through a dummy company set up for international transactions. While the transactions were done via four banks, irregularities were observed as the money transferred to the account in the morning would be completely withdrawn in the afternoon. Moreover, there was no letter of credit issued as evidence of payment from the foreign government. Therefore, it was a suspicious case of money laundering.

NACC commissioner Klanarong Chantik said the agency was transcribing the recording of the censure debate to see what issues had been scrutinised. It would be used to support the cases filed by the opposition when it filed an impeachment motion.

However, the NACC might investigate other irregularities it finds suspicious without having to wait for anyone to file complaint, he said.

In a separate development, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Network (NACN), yesterday petitioned the NACC, charging widespread corruption in the implementation of the rice-pledging scheme.

Mongkolkit said his group has sufficient evidence that implicated politicians' associates in the irregularities. He asked the anti-graft agency to investigate whether the rice scheme was conducted transparently and whether there were unusual monetary movements involving senior civil servants.


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