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No-Confidence Debate

Rice deals with China fake, opposition claims

Democrats produce evidence of a dummy firm tied to govt figures

The opposition has established a link between the government's rice-pledging scheme and massive money laundering by producing evidence of a dummy company, individuals and old ghosts like President Agri Trading and Siam Indica, which could be found involved in non-existent rice deals.

Opposition MP Varong Dejkitvikrom insisted that the 7.3 million-tonne government-to-government rice deal with China was invented to benefit certain companies.

In response to this, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom insisted, very strongly, that the government did indeed sell rice as part of a G2G contract. All rice exports are verified by the Department of Trade Negotiations, 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.

"[After buying the rice] I won't be investigating what buyers do with it," he said.

Varong backed his case by saying that one of the buyers, Guangzhou-based GSSG Import and Export Corporation, was actually represented by a Thai man called Rathanit Sojirakul, who later authorised Phichit-based Nimon Rakdi to since a contract to purchase 5 million tonnes of rice on the company's behalf.

The Democrat pointed out that Rathanit was a close aide to Pheu Thai MP Rapeephan Phongruangrong, who is the wife of red-shirt leader Arisman Phongruangrong.

Rathanit, who claimed to be the authorised representative of the Chinese firm, only has Bt64.63 in his bank account, the Democrat MP said.

Nimon, who was authorised to sign the contract with the government, is known in Phichit province as Sia Jo or "tycoon Jo". He is the right-hand man of Apichart Chansakulporn, also known as Sia Piang, he said.

Nimon previously worked at President Agri Trading, a company that was found to have been involved in shady dealings under a rice price-pledging scheme launched in 2003-2004 during Thaksin Shinawatra's administration, Varong said.

President Agri is connected to Apichart's Siam Indica, which was also involved in the scam in 2004, he said.

In the latest deal, the Chinese firm paid Bt300 per sack of rice, rather than market price of Bt1,500-Bt1,555, Varong said. Taking this into account, the men in question would make a profit of Bt20 billion. Also, he said, the rice has not gone anywhere but is being stored in Siam President's warehouse in Phichit, he said. There are some 400,000 sacks of rice in the facility, collected between May 5 and July 16, he added.

Varong went on to talk about other suspicious transactions. One involved the Bt500-million cashier's cheque issued by Somkid Ruansupa, who lives in a two-storey house in Bang Khae.

The MP said this Somkid was one of Apichart's men, who was assigned to establish Siam Indica on January 13, 2004. Further investigation showed that Nimon, Ruangwan and Somkid co-owned a Kasikornbank savings account No 001-0-03796-9. Bank records show money being transferred to this account in the morning and being withdrawn in the afternoon. Varong said he believed these transfers must have been made to launder money in some way.

Varong also played a video clip showing Apichart meeting Thaksin in Malaysia during his October 4-5 visit. He said he had learned that the Commerce Ministry advised rice traders to talk to Apichart if they wanted to get involved with the government's rice trade. He said evidence pointed to Apichart's close ties with politicians, which allowed him to establish a dummy company to facilitate money laundering.

"In a G2G transaction, there should be a letter of credit. But there is no such thing in this case, proving that there is no real trade. Yet, there were a number of money transfers. The prime minister should redeem herself by dismissing the commerce minister, commerce permanent secretary and director-generals of the Foreign Trade Department and Public Warehouse Organisation. She herself should go to the execution ground," he concluded.

Earlier yesterday, Democrat MP Kiat Sittheeamorn also disputed the government's claim that more than 5 million tonnes of rice had been exported, although statistics from relevant state agencies showed that only 4.7 million tonnes were exported.


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