Published on December 21, 2007
Some of the biggest corruption scandals involving Thai politicians and government officials in recent years have been exposed first by United States law enforcement officials investigating violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The latest bombshell revelation, in which former Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Juthamas Siriwan was implicated for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for the awarding of contracts to manage the Bangkok International Film Festivals, is one such case. The alleged corruption case is typical of influence peddling in which a person in high office abuses his or her power by accepting bribes in exchange for preferential treatment to a certain individual or company. It remains to be seen how Thai law enforcement officials will react to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) findings. We have already seen and heard typical responses by Thai law enforcers who claim to have no knowledge of the US investigation and the charges levelled against Gerald Green and his wife, Patricia, who were arrested earlier this week in Los Angeles for FCPA violations. Companies owned by the couple had been awarded lucrative deals to run the Bangkok International Film Festival between 2003 and 2005, which was organised by the TAT, then under Juthamas' leadership. Thai law enforcers and the National Counter Corruption Commission must launch an investigation based on the FBI findings without delay.
In 2004, Investigations by the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission into FCPA violations by a US firm, InVision Technologies, which sold airport bomb-detectors to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, led to public anger and serious damage to the credibility of the then-Thaksin administration. The bribes were allegedly paid to senior Thai politicians and officials by InVision Technologies before it was taken over by General Electric Company. After the takeover, the new company, GE InVision Technologies, voluntarily disclosed to the US authorities findings from an internal investigation that InVision employees were aware of improper payments to foreign officials by its agents or distributors in Thailand and other countries. In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice, InVision agreed to pay US$800,000 in civil penalties and $1.1 million in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission for FCPA violations.
The US anti-corruption commitment deserves praise, because in pursuing corrupt practices by its own citizens, it helps expose corruption involving foreign officials outside the US. Without US disclosures, these scandals in Thailand and other developing countries could easily remain unexposed and corrupt politicians and officials would escape justice. The US is doing its part. But developing countries like Thailand, in which huge amounts of money change hands in corrupt deals, continue to do precious little to stamp it out.
Three full years after the InVision bribery case became public in Thailand, thanks to the revelations in the US, the military-appointed Assets Examination Committee has just reported that politicians, government officials and the distributor of the CTX explosive detection machines colluded to inflate the prices - costing taxpayers more than Bt1.5 billion. But the names of the alleged offenders have not been released and no one has been punished.
The problem of corruption in Thailand is based on the traditional patronage system of relationships and is therefore very difficult to stamp out. Unlike in other more open societies, where egalitarianism is the norm, corrupt practices, although frowned upon by many Thais, are not actively pursued and exposed. The least that Thailand can do to reduce corruption is to make sure that useful information provided by US law enforcement officials regarding corrupt practices by our officials is actively investigated here.
Most of the time, the US authorities provide good groundwork, including findings of thorough investigations and even court sentences complete with witness statements. What is most disappointing is that Thai law enforcement officials, instead of building their case on the already solid evidence provided by the US, tend to water down the charges against local politicians and officials implicated in corruption scandals by insisting on starting their own investigations from scratch. What Thais really want and need are some results, otherwise corruption will continue unabated.