BANGKOK, Mar29 – The former head of Thailand’s tourism department was given a 50-year jail sentence on Wednesday for accepting US$1.8 million (RM7.95 million) in kickbacks from an American couple lobbying for rights to host a Bangkok film festival.
Juthamas Siriwan, 69, accepted the bribes while she was tourism chief in the early 2000s, according to the verdict delivered at a new Bangkok court handling corruption cases. Judges also sentenced her daughter, Jittisopha, to 44 years for helping hide the cash in overseas bank accounts, and ordered Thai authorities to seize the money.
“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 Greens served time in US jails for running the sophisticated graft scheme, which saw them funnel money to Juthamas over a period of five years to secure rights to run Bangkok’s yearly International Film Festival.
The contracts enabled the couple to generate more than US$13.5 million in revenue, according to an FBI statement about the investigation. Official graft is endemic in Thailand and bribery is common for everything from avoiding police fines to securing school places.
The military junta that came to power in a 2014 coup has vowed to root out corruption, which has often served as a catalyst for political unrest. But critics accuse the junta’s probes of political bias and say impunity continues in a country where the judicial system is easily bent by cash and connections.
Thailand’s anti-corruption agency announced this month that it was investigating former senior government officials and employees of the flagship airline over allegations they took huge bribes from Rolls-Royce more than a decade ago. The investigation was launched after the UK’s Serious Fraud Office announced revelations from its own probe into the engine-maker. — AFP