THE FORMER governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Juthamas Siriwan, was yesterday sentenced to 50 years in jail for accepting US$1.8 million (Bt62 million) in bribes from an American couple seeking the rights to host a Bangkok film festival.
The Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases also sentenced her 43-year-old daughter, Jittisopha, to 44 years in jail for helping hide the ill-gotten cash in overseas bank accounts. The court ordered authorities to seize the funds found to have been earned dishonestly from the bribery scandal.
Juthamas and Jittisopha spent the night in detention yesterday after the court declined to grant them bail. The lower court referred their request for bail to the Appeal Court, which did not make a decision regarding the matter immediately.
Their lawyer, Tanakorn Waekwari, sought a temporary release, offering bail of Bt1 million each. The defence is expected to appeal against yesterday’s court verdict.
Juthamas, 70, and her daughter appeared at the court in black yesterday but they avoided the media. They were accompanied by their lawyer and a small group of people close to them.
The mother and daughter were heard sighing from time to time while the court read the verdict, during a session that lasted almost three hours.
The court found the former TAT governor guilty of committing malfeasance by accepting bribes from the American businesspeople Gerald and Patricia Green from 2002 to 2007 in exchange for the rights to organise the Bangkok International Film Festival.
Juthamas denied that that she had abused her power as TAT governor and argued that she was not involved with any procurement for the film festival. Jittisopha argued that the $1.8 million in her overseas bank accounts were from her own business with the Greens and that the money had nothing to do with her mother.
The court, however, was not convinced by their arguments.
Juthamas was found guilty on 11 counts, with six years’ imprisonment on each count totalling 66 years. However, according to the law, a convict cannot be imprisoned for longer than 50 years. Jittisopha was found guilty on 11 counts, with four years’ imprisonment on each count totalling 44 years.
Public prosecutors filed the case against Juthamas and her daughter in August 2015.
Juthamas and her daughter yesterday were put behind bars following a delay in the court’s ruling on their bail applications. The pair sought release on bail, offering a guarantee of Bt1 million each. The primary court, however, passed on the bail request to the Appeal Court. The lower court said it feared the defendants might flee the country due to the tough penalty.
NACC to seize assets abroad
“They colluded to avoid free competition in favour of Gerald Green and Patricia Green,” the court verdict said, referring to the Los Angeles-based couple behind the bribery.
The court found that the American couple made 59 money transfers into the bank accounts of Jittisopha and her unnamed friends, totalling $1.82 million.
The Greens served time in US jail for running the sophisticated graft scheme, which saw them funnel money to Juthamas over a period of five years to secure rights to run the annual Bangkok International Film Festival.
The contracts enabled the couple to generate more than $13.5 million in revenue, according to a statement by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about its probe into the case against the Greens.
Last Friday, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) said it would seize an estimated Bt65 million in overseas assets belonging to Juthamas and her daughter. The TAT ex-governor had earlier faced an NACC investigation for being “unusually rich” after leaving public office.
The anti-graft agency said it would forward the case to the Office of the Attorney-General for further action on asset seizure. Based on a money trail provided by the FBI and the US Justice Department, the ill-gotten money was found to have been deposited in several foreign bank accounts in five countries and territories, namely the United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore, Jersey and Switzerland.
Published : March 29, 2017
By : THE NATION, AGENCIES