Ministry's sincerity is questioned
Democrat Kiat smells a delaying tactic
The Commerce Ministry's decision to extend the scope of its nominee investigation to cover 16 more companies has surprised Democrat MP Kiat Sitthee-amorn, who questioned the ministry's motives yesterday, as well as its seriousness in completing the investigation.
Kiat said the new investigations were unlike the case of Kularb Kaew, when the ministry was compelled to launch its investigation following official complaints from three organisations, including the Democrat Party and a Senate committee.
"Now, it's like [the ministry is] expanding the scope on the grounds of [claims in] leaflets," he said.
Asked if the ministry is enlarging the scope of the investigation in an attempt to delay its results, he said: "You can say so."
Kiat also questioned why the authorities had not taxed Surin Upatkoon for the Bt2.7 billion he transferred from Fairmont and later used to buy shares in Kularb Kaew.
"The transferred money is considered income, and he is a Thai national. Why wasn't he taxed for that income?" Kiat said.
A source at the Commerce Ministry said yesterday Surin had sought a meeting with deputy permanent secretary Yanyong Phuagrach, chairman of the investigating committee, on Monday. The meeting follows a letter of complaint sent recently to Yanyong by Surin's adviser, suggesting the scope of the investigation be extended.
The source said the investigation of the 16 new companies would be conducted differently from that of the four companies involved with the Temasek Holdings-Shin Corp deal, because they are in different industries. The four companies in the Shin deal are Kularb Kaew, Cedar Holdings, Aspen Holdings and Cypress Holdings.
Caretaker Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said yesterday there was no specified deadline for completion of the investigation.
"I have ordered the Business Development Department to gather information on the 16 companies, but it's not our duty to say who is right or wrong. We'll simply forward the investigation results to the responsible agencies," he said, adding that the ministry would not rule in the case of Kularb Kaew either.
The investigation will not affect investor confidence because there will be no ruling, Somkid said.
The 16 companies added to the investigation on Wednesday include United Communication Industry Plc (Ucom), which was taken over late last year by Norway's Telenor and its units.
Surin said in his letter to the ministry that Telenor now holds practically 75 per cent of Ucom, above the statutory limit of 49 per cent, and that makes Ucom a nominee of Telenor.
In October last year, under a complex set of transactions, Thai Telco Holding Ltd - which is 49-per-cent owned by Telenor - bought a 39.9-per-cent stake in Ucom for a total of Bt9.2 billion.
As of June this year, Thai Telco owned 42.4 per cent of Ucom, while Telenor Asia had 47 per cent.
Ucom also owns 41.6 per cent of Total Access Communication (DTAC), while Telenor Asia owns 32.9 per cent and Thai Telco 0.5 per cent.
Other companies to be investigated are Asia Aviation, which now holds a 50-per-cent stake in Thai AirAsia, and Hutchison-CAT Wireless Multimedia.
Hutchison-CAT is the 75:25 joint venture of Hong Kong's telecom giant Hutchison Telecom and CAT Telecom Plc.
Securities house JPMorgan said in a research note that while the outcome of the nominee issue was unknown, its view was that if certain telecom companies operating in Thailand - Total DTAC, Hutch and Advanced Info Service (AIS) - are deemed to be foreign, there were three possible scenarios.
First, the existing operations of these companies will be allowed to continue. Second, the National Telecommunications Commission will order the companies to rectify their shareholding structures, and third, applications for new licences from these entities will be suspended.
"The last point is important as it pertains to future WiMax, 3G, international gateway, and Internet licences. Note that True Corp is Thai-owned," the securities company said.
Meanwhile, the Council of State yesterday refused to interpret the Alien Business Law as requested by the Commerce Ministry, saying that the ministry had failed to clearly define its motives and objectives in the request.
Meechai Richupan, who chaired the council's meeting, said that according to the council's rules government agencies must be clear in what they want when asking the panel to interpret laws.
"With unclear questions, we don't know the motive and we can't guess. We don't even know if there is a legal conflict and we don't know what the answer should be. It's like displaying a newspaper and asking if it is a newspaper," he said.
The ministry earlier asked the council to interpret the term "services" as used in the law. Meechai said that without the council's interpretation, the ministry would have to handle the issue itself. Any unclear issues should be discussed in court.
"The council is relieved of this duty," he said.