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Thai Investigators Probe Allegations of Corruption Under Previous Government

  • Ron Corben

A Thai committee examining alleged corruption by the deposed government of Thaksin Shinawatra says cases involving the country's new international airport will be presented to a criminal court by late May. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the look into the troubled airport is just one of several investigations into Mr. Thaksin's administration.

A committee of auditors and senior judges says corruption in the construction of the $4 billion Suvarnabhumi International Airport might have cost taxpayers more than $40 million.

The Assets Investigation Committee was created by the Thai military after it ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup last September.

The committee is investigating allegations of corruption during Mr. Thaksin's five-year term. Among the topics of investigation is the sale of his family's telecommunications company to a Singapore investment firm, which earned the family almost $2 billion tax-free.

The immediate concern is the new airport, which opened in September southeast of Bangkok.

Auditor General Jaruvan Maintaka says the committee is "very confident" that the evidence supports allegations of corruption there - although she says uncovering the evidence was not easy.

"The whole thing was very well planned. It makes the whole investigation very much more difficult," she said.

Because of that, she says, the investigations have been painstaking.

"We need to be very certain that there would be no hole for them to look out. So we are very, very careful on each of the words we are going to use. That's why we take a certain time here," she said.

Appeals Court Judge Amnuay Phantara says the committee examined an airport contract for U.S.-made luggage scanners, known as CTX scanners, as well as contracts involving companies from Japan, Germany and Thailand.

Amnuay says the investigation closely follows the Anti-Corruption Act. He says final documents will be submitted to the Auditor General's office, to allow court hearings to start by late May.

Mr. Thaksin, the former transport minister, the former Airport Authority chairman and other Thaksin government officials have been accused of corruption in the CTX case. Mr. Thaksin and members of his government have repeatedly denied the allegations, which first surfaced while he was still in office.

Earlier this week, the Democrat Party, a strong critic of Mr. Thaksin, released a summary of its own investigations into Thaksin-era dealings. The report estimates that corruption and cronyism cost Thailand more than $850 million.

Democrat Party deputy leader Alongkorn Ponlaboot calls the scanner contract central to the party's investigation, which also examined the contract for airport duty-free shops that went to a company called King Power.

"The CTX corruption scandal is one of the major topics in the book, and also about the King Power. We try to pinpoint that there is no transparency to provide such a concession," he said.

The new airport has been plagued by problems. Cracks in the parking ramps for jetliners and other flaws have forced the government to start reopening Bangkok's old airport, which had been closed down. Some domestic and international flights will be routed there until the problems are resolved.