Prof denies knowledge of ill-gotten gains
Thammasat University lecturer Sombat Chantarawong yesterday told the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) he got involved in business transactions of an unusually wealthy general's family without knowing that these funds had been gained illegally.Sombat had read the same statement to the press on Wednesday.
The lecturer told the NACC that he had agreed to let Natnicha, the wife of General Satien Permthong-in, a former permanent secretary for Defence, deposit Bt18 million in his account in 2011 without asking where the money came from.
Sombat said he was not close to Satien and that Natnicha had sought his help claiming that she was having problems with her husband. He added that Satien had not become permanent secretary of the ministry that year and he thought Natnicha had earned the money from her business.
Natnicha later withdrew the money to invest in property and used his name as a business partner, claiming this way Satien would have no rights to the asset.
The property was later sold and Natnicha gave him a cheque from Siam Global House, which had bought the plot, on grounds that he was a partner. Sombat said he deposited the cheque with the Thammasat University Cooperative, because it was the most convenient way for him to cash it and hand the money over to Natnicha.
Speaking to reporters later, Sombat said that after NACC held a press conference on Tuesday to allege that he was involved in irregular transactions of the Permthong-in family, Natnicha and her daughter, Nichapat, had called him to apologise for causing problems.
Sombat said he was not angry with anybody and was confident that he could defend himself.
He said he would like the court to rule on the case soon so he can find out if the family had deceived him. Sombat added that he would submit his resignation next Wednesday, with effect from the end of April, as he had to grade his students first. He said he would not be giving up his professorship because His Majesty the King had granted the title.
On Tuesday, the NACC decided to freeze Satien's assets worth Bt65 million pending judicial review.
Sombat said the NACC did not ask him to provide more information or submit more evidence in his defence. He said he would like the NACC to unfreeze his bank account with Bt607,736 in it because it was not related to Natnicha's assets and that he had evidence to prove that the money in the account was his own.
Thammasat University rector Somkit Lertpaithoon said he was glad that Sombat was taking responsibility and maintaining high standards befitting an academic who is also a social critic. However, he said, academic ranks cannot be returned because they are earned and one can only lose them when the positions are withdrawn.