The Supreme Court set up a committee yesterday to investigate an alleged attempt by a politician's lawyer to bribe court officials, which a spokesman for ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra described as "a joke and impossible".
Sarawut Benjakul, deputy secretary-general of the court, confirmed a press report that a lawyer representing a politician had given a box of pastry filled with banknotes worth Bt2 million to a senior court official on Tuesday while submitting documents to the court.
He said the box and the cash were photographed, but were returned to the lawyer.
Supreme Court president Viruch Limvichai decided to set up a committee of three senior judges to investigate the matter, Sarawut said.
"The court has to follow legal procedures to carry out the investigation. If [the alleged bribery attempt] is found to be true, it is an infringement of court authority. The court will take further action if there is any violation of the law," the spokesman said.
"If it's really a bribery attempt, it's very scandalous. There has never been such an attempt before as far as the Supreme Court is concerned," he added.
However, the controversy will not result in any changes to the judges in charge of cases against various politicians.
"The judges dealing with the cases were selected by a general assembly of more than 100 fellow judges," Sarawut said. "I believe in their honesty and integrity. To change judges in charge of specific cases, there must be just cause, such as death or resignation. And changes of judges cannot be done while cases are under way."
He insisted that the persons approached by the unnamed lawyer in question were court officials, and not the judges dealing with the cases.
The Supreme Court's Criminal Division on Political Office Holders is currently dealing with separate cases involving three politicians: Thaksin, former House Speaker and People Power Party deputy leader Yongyuth Tiyapairat, and Vatana Asavahame - chairman of the coalition Puea Pandin Party.
Thaksin was scheduled to report to the court on Tuesday in a corruption case against him. However, he did not show up.
Pichit Chuenban, a lawyer who represents both Thaksin and Yongyuth in two separate cases, did not answer phone calls when contacted yesterday.
Meanwhile, Pongthep Thepkanchana, who acts as Thaksin's spokesman, called the alleged bribery attempt a joke.
"I don't think anyone would offer as much as Bt2 million to a court official who has no authority to change the result of a case," he said.
He did not think it was an attempt to discredit the judges in charge of the cases in the hope of having them replaced. "Only crazy people would do that," he said.
Pongthep, who once served as justice minister in the Thaksin government, said political enemies were trying to link his boss to the matter. "But I insist that Thaksin's legal team won't think of doing it [paying a bribe]," he said. "I won't ask the lawyers myself. This is a joke rather than a real story."
In a related development, Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator for the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy, yesterday said he had learned about attempts to lobby judges dealing with cases involving "a big-wig politician".
"Sometimes there was political pressure from politicians in power," he said.