Published on February 9, 2008
General Saprang Kalayamitr on Tuesday attributed the recent corruption scandal to betrayal by "beloved" friends and insisted that he loved the country far too much to cheat.
"Throughout the 38 years of my service, I have honoured two things, the nation and the monarchy," Saprang said in an interview, admitting that despite his abilities in the combat zone, he knew nothing about politics.
On Monday Saprang threatened to sue the Manager Group for defamation stemming from a front-page report accusing him of corruption and poor performance as chairman of the Telephone Organisation of Thailand (TOT) and Airports of Thailand (AOT). He plans to demand Bt100 million in damages for an attack on his character in the weekend edition of the Manager newspaper, which was founded by anti-Thaksin campaigner Sondhi Limthong-kul.
Saprang insisted that he would fight this case to the end, adding emotionally that that he was ready to call on influential people and tell them how bad his fair-weather friends were. "I will tell them that if they think I'm a man of ethics with good intentions towards the country they will understand and cut ties with the bad guys."
With his military background, Saprang has been considered far too audacious by the press, particularly during his term as chairman of TOT and AOT. Saprang said he did not mind the negative criticism but insisted that he did not have any ill intentions.
He explained that all the rumours had originated from "crooked friends" and by the time he realised the damage they had done it had been too late. However, he declined to name these so-called friends, just saying that he had met an old friend from the Armed Forces' Preparatory School when he became a member of the Council for National Security. Believing that this friend shared his philosophy on protecting the country, he welcomed the man into his circle, only to find out that this "friend" was involved with spurious projects concerning TOT and AOT.
"I learned about this when a respected person called to say this guy was not as good as I thought and that he was involved in shady deals. I was shocked. I thought he was doing things for the country. I called him in to talk with the [two state enterprises'] boards, and then I told him to leave," Saprang said.
He added that this friend had negotiated "tea money" from King Power International in exchange for settling a dispute with AOT and had also forged a partnership with some former TOT staff members to get bribes from telecom companies.
Aside from the ex-military friend, Saprang said he had been treated badly by another fair-weather friend.
When asked if he would sort things out with these friends, Saprang said: "Never! I was stupid to listen to the bastards."
After spending a year at TOT and AOT, the general admitted that he had been more comfortable at TOT because it was not involved with politics and its projects were on a smaller scale. This explains why there is little progress at AOT, he said.
Saprang also showed no fear of possible revenge from those who suffered from the 2006 coup. "If I had been afraid, I would not have done it."
He added that he did not expect to be given any position on the boards of state enterprises under this government, adding that he was not keen on business and that he only had a stake in a Vietnamese restaurant.
Saprang said that he had thought about quitting three times, the last time being in October. He insisted that it had had nothing to do with the appointment of General Anu-pong Paochinda as Army chief and that he had changed his mind because someone had told him to stay on.
When asked if he would stop using the word "warrior" in his speeches, he responded: "I am a warrior, and I will use it. How could I say anything else?"
He did not acknowledge that the repeated use of this word would make it meaningless and put his image across as brash. Instead, he said that he would not soften up. "I don't care about my image. I know who I am, and I don't mind if nobody else knows it."
After a year as member of the CNS, Saprang said, the issue bored him, but he declined to go into detail. The general, who regularly reads the Tripitaka during his free time, plans to spend his retirement on works of charity and having his biography written.