It will be interesting to see how things go. It is rare for two countries to have parallel legal procedures in the same corruption case. While a verdict in one country may not be legally binding in the other - meaning that a "guilty" verdict against the alleged bribers in America may not necessarily mean Jutamas will automatically lose her case here - we are in for some unique precedents. In this interconnected world, corruption cases can span across continents.
Jutamas' name has reportedly come up in US court transcripts. Locally, she has vehemently denied involvement in the bribery scandal, which allegedly took place when she was TAT governor during the Thaksin government. Local investigators have established that irregularities concerning the film festival involved bribery, favouritism and suspicious budgets that were within Jutamas's power to approve. The case has been forwarded to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is expected to make a decision soon on how to proceed.
In the US, the trial of two Hollywood producers accused of trying to bribe their way into running the Bangkok International Film Festival is now underway at the US Federal District Court in Los Angeles. The US indictment, filed in December 2007, claims that Gerald Green, the executive producer of the 2006 film "Rescue Dawn", and his wife Patricia, conspired to pay a Thai government official more than US$1.7 million (Bt58 million) to land the contract to run the festival, which would allegedly yield more than $10 million in return.
Nothing seems too complicated here. The case is no different from a Thai contractor paying a politician under the table to beat other bidders to a lucrative deal. The American couple is being subjected to the hand of their country's foreign business law that prohibits such practice. But if the prospect of a $10 million profit had lured them into taking the risk, we may be seeing only the tip of an iceberg here.
The US laws against corrupt practices of American business people overseas shook the Thai political scene a few years back, also during the Thaksin government. The scandal over the CTX airport scanners allegedly involved greater kickbacks, but suspected offenders in both countries have apparently slipped through the net. It is no surprise, however, that the higher the stakes, the harder it is to catch the big fish.
It remains to be seen whether the Greens' trial will conclude before the Jutamas case or vice versa. Gerald Green, 76, and his wife Patricia, 53, have pleaded not guilty to all 22 counts of a second superseding indictment. In addition to foreign corrupt practice charges, they face counts for money laundering and illegally transporting money-laundering proceeds. Gerald Green is also charged with obstruction and Patricia Green with filing false tax returns. They are staring at several years in jail, and the US government is also seeking forfeiture of some of their property.
There are "innocent" bribe-givers, those convinced that they have to go with the flow in order to get things done, and "innocent" bribe-takers, those who are offered rewards by notorious people engaged in cut-throat business competition. But there is no doubt that bribery, friendly or forced, has become a deep-rooted tradition in doing business in, or with, Thailand. And this evil feeds on the crackdowns against it. If you stand accused of bribery, one response is to bribe your way out of it.
If Jutamas is found guilty and punished, it will be among Thailand's rare successful prosecutions of senior officials or former senior officials. In fact, cases have scarcely reached the prosecution stage if they involve high-ranking personnel in this country. If they do, it takes so long to wrap up that future or potential offenders are more likely to be encouraged than dispirited.
It may be a race between Thailand and the United States to punish alleged wrongdoers in the Bangkok International Film Festival scandal, but the parallel legal processes are anything but a joint statement of intent. Bribery is easy to do, and not hard to trace, but impossible to eradicate. And in Thailand, all the lines have been blurred. If we asked one Thaksin Shinawatra whether a Daimler worth nearly Bt10 million given to Somboon Rahong about a decade ago, or Bt2 million that his lawyers left at the Criminal Court last year, were some sort of bribes, the best answer we would get is that they were just honest mistakes.