Thai Anti-Corruption Agency Accuses Former Ministers Over Rice

Thailand’s anti-corruption agency has asked for criminal charges to be filed against 21 people, including former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, for alleged fraud in a rice deal with China.

The agreement was supposed to be between governments, but instead saw rice sold at below-market prices to two Chinese companies that weren’t authorized to import grain under state contracts, the National Anti-Corruption Commission alleged Tuesday. The rice was then resold to a Thai company, which marketed the grain in Thailand.

The rice used in the deal was part of government stockpiles built up under former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s program of buying the crop from farmers at higher than market rates. Yingluck, whose government was ousted in a May 22 coup, has been accused of negligence for failing to stop the program’s losses and faces a five-year ban from politics if impeached by the junta’s legislature in a decision due Jan. 23. Yingluck has called the charges politically motivated and defended the program as a way to boost rural incomes.

“I believe that I’ll get justice from the court because I didn’t commit any wrongdoing,” Boonsong said in a statement Tuesday. “It is a pity that the decision by the NACC today has a hidden agenda, coming two days before closing statements in the impeachment case of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. I just fell victim to politics.”

The corruption agency will forward the case, which also implicates former Deputy Commerce Minister Poom Sarapol, to the Office of the Attorney General, which will decide whether to press charges.

Malfeasance in Office

Five former ministers from Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party filed charges with the Criminal Court on Tuesday accusing five members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission of malfeasance in office, Thai PBS reported. The court accepted the case for preliminary hearings, the report said. All five former ministers previously had been charged with offenses by the commission in cases unrelated to the rice program.

The rice subsidy was one of the main election policies for Yingluck’s party when it ran for office in 2011, and she led a committee that oversaw the initiative. The National Anti-Corruption Commission ruled in July that Yingluck was negligent for failing to halt the program after being warned of losses that grew to an estimated 500 billion baht ($15.3 billion).

The rice program, which lapsed about three months before Yingluck was ousted, spurred the buildup of record stockpiles as farmers expanded output and the government bought the crop. The Food & Agriculture Organization put Thai holdings at 17.8 million metric tons last year, enough to cover 44 percent of global exports, according to a report in December. The junta is still trying to find buyers for the holdings.

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