MP shows proof of suspicious money transfers, raises doubts about Chinese company involved in deal; Pheu Thai says Democrat worry about its own deals prevented it from seeking impeachment
The Opposition has threatened to carry on its fight against the rice-pledging scheme, with a plan to take all irregularities found to the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Anti-Money Laundering Commission.
Phitsanulok Democrat MP Warong Dechgitvigrom yesterday took the House floor on the last day of the censure debate, showing more evidence of suspicious money transfers in the accounts belonging to state agencies involved in the scheme. He said sometimes more than Bt100 million was wired to an account in the morning and it was all transferred out in the afternoon.
He suspected that the money used in the purchase of rice in the government-to-government deal with China came from a Thai. Then, the rice was sold to brokers with close ties to the government and “a person abroad”.
Unless the government revealed the letter of credit or other evidence to show that the buyers were genuine foreigners, the Opposition was convinced the deal was fraudulent, he said.
On Monday, Warong presented evidence that showed irregular money transfers of some individuals involved with scandal-plagued rice traders like President Agri Trading and Siam Indica. He suspected that the Guangzhou-based GSSG Import and Export Corporation was actually represented by a Thai man. The company could have made Bt20-billion profit from buying Thai rice at a cost well below market price.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom yesterday insisted that the deal was real, but he declined to prove if the buyer was really a Chinese company. He insisted that the deal was transparently executed, as the government had called for bidding on five occasions. The government had just checked the existence of the foreign buyers, which must be certified by their respective governments.
He said the Opposition was using its imagination to link an aide to one of the MPs with the rice deal and none of the clips or pictures of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s birthday had anything to do with the contract.
A source from the Foreign Trade Department yesterday added that the Thai government saw no need to check the nationality of the Chinese company.
“The government has no need to check whether the company is a nominee or a ghost firm as the government’s method of selling rice at the warehouse door (ex-warehouse) guaranteed that Thailand was paid for the shipment of rice to the Chinese firm. China had the authority to employ any company or any person for shipping rice from the warehouse door. The Thai government had nothing to do with it after the delivery, and the government did not need to prove if the firm was a nominee or was on any blacklist,” the source said.
The source said the letter of credit could not be produced as this deal was settled by cheque, which had been cashed and transferred to the Foreign Trade Department’s account. Though admitting that the Thai government would face greater difficulty in selling rice in a government-to-government deal, he said the department would need to examine traders’ backgrounds in a new deal, to prevent similar accusations.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, assigned to probe corruption in the rice-pledging scheme, defended the PM, saying that though Yingluck Shinawatra chaired the National Rice Policy Committee, she had no mandate to approve any rice sale.
“Anyone, unless convicted by court and finally sentenced to jail, can do business; it’s his right. And anyone who has money can buy rice from the government as long as it was not sold cheaper than the market price,” he said.
Much of the debate on the last day was also centred around the argument why the Opposition did not seek the impeachment of Prime Minister Yingluck.
Warong explained the Opposition view that Yingluck had blundered by her failure to combat corruption.
Deputy Commerce Minister Natthawut Saikua said he suspected the Opposition did not seek the impeachment of Yingluck and concerned ministers because it was afraid that what the party had covered up about its rice policy may be exposed.
Pheu Thai party-list MP Phichit Chuenban said the Opposition did not dare to seek the government’s impeachment because the Democrat Party itself had earlier caused damage to the country by selling 900,000 tonnes of rice to 10 private companies at a price lower than the market price, and this was because it had not called for bids.
Democrat party-list MP Trairong Suwankhiri defended the Democrat-led government, saying it actually sold more than 6 million tonnes of rice and the selling procedures were in accordance with regulations. He said there were 11 auctions for rice during the Democrat-led government and denied that a major rice dealer called Siam Indica had monopolised the rice market. He added the government never allow any rice trader to meet privately.