Thai junta files sedition complaint against new party leader

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gives the traditional greeting, or wai, during an election rally in Bangkok. (AP)
Updated 03 April 2019

Thai junta files sedition complaint against new party leader

  • Future Forward ran a strong third in elections last month that were also contested by a pro-military party
  • Future Forward’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, said he would report to police on Saturday to receive the summons against him

BANGKOK: Thailand’s ruling junta has filed a complaint accusing the leader of a popular new political party of sedition and aiding criminals, a move that its target described as politically motivated.
The party, Future Forward, ran a strong third in elections last month that were also contested by a pro-military party.
Future Forward’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, said he would report to police on Saturday to receive the summons against him. The potential penalty he would face is nine years in prison. The summons he received did not specify what actions were the cause for the complaint.
Thanathorn and his party already have several criminal complaints and protests to the Election Commission lodged against them.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday before a tour of a Bangkok neighborhood to thank voters, Thanathorn said the new legal action against him was expected and “nothing new.”
“We are prepared mentally. There’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We believe in our innocence. We believe these cases are politically motivated.”
Preliminary results of the March 24 general election failed to give any single party a majority, making it unclear whether pro- or anti-junta parties would hold a majority in the House of Representatives. The Future Forward Party is a junior partner in an anti-junta coalition that claims have a majority of seats, but the final official voting results won’t be released until May 9.
Between now and then, there could be shifts in party alliances, and there is concern that the state Election Commission, widely regarded as sympathetic to the junta, could disqualify the already elected candidates of its opponents.
The army has several times publicly shown its disdain for the left-leaning political line that the Future Forward Party stands for. The country’s influential army chief on Tuesday issued a thinly veiled attack on the party, not mentioning it by name but implying that it has foreign-influenced ideas unsuitable for the “Thai-style democratic system,” which is a constitutional monarchy.
Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, the ruling junta’s secretary-general, said the army would do its duty, “which is to protect, maintain and defend the institutions of nation, religion, and monarchy.”
Respect for the monarchy is a sensitive and emotional issue in Thailand, and accusations of disrespect are sometimes used by opportunists to smear their political opponents. Thailand has a lese majeste law that makes criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Self-interest could also play a part in the junta’s actions against Thanathorn. He has said his party’s primary agenda is to stop Thailand’s military from intervening in politics, and also suggested its budget be slashed.
The military has governed Thailand since then-army commander Prayuth Chan-och staged a coup in 2014 against an elected government. Since then, Prayuth has been serving as junta leader and prime minister, and is the candidate of the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party, which according to preliminary results grabbed the biggest share of the popular vote in last month’s election.
According to a constitution implemented under the junta, it takes a joint vote of the elected House of Representatives and the appointed Senate to name a new prime minister, giving Prayuth a great advantage. However, his opponents could still control a majority in the lower house, making it difficult for him to pass laws or get a budget approved, and making any government he would head unstable because of the possibility it would face a vote of no confidence.


Former Unaoil managers convicted in Britain of Iraq bribery

Updated 13 July 2020

Former Unaoil managers convicted in Britain of Iraq bribery

  • The verdict marks a milestone in the British arm of a 4-year, global inquiry

LONDON: Two former managers of Monaco-based energy consultancy Unaoil have been convicted in Britain of bribing Iraqi officials to clinch lucrative oil projects as the war-ravaged country tried to boost exports after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The verdict marks a milestone in the British arm of a four-year, global inquiry into how Unaoil, once run by the prominent Ahsani family, helped major Western companies secure energy projects across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa over two decades.
A London jury found British-Lebanese Ziad Akle, Unaoil’s former Iraq territory manager, and Stephen Whiteley, a British former manager for Iraq, Kazakhstan and Angola, guilty of plotting to make corrupt payments to secure oil contracts between 2005 and 2010.
But after a marathon 19 days of deliberations, the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case against Paul Bond, a British one-time Middle East sales manager for Dutch-based oil and gas services company SBM Offshore. He faces a retrial, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) confirmed on Monday.
The three men denied any wrongdoing.
The judge lifted reporting restrictions on Monday after a drawn-out trial that was suspended in March as the coronavirus brought parts of the criminal justice system to a halt, and restarted in May in a new court to allow jurors to socially distance.
“These men dishonestly and corruptly took advantage of a government reeling from dictatorship and occupation and trying to reconstruct a war-torn state,” said SFO head Lisa Osofsky following the verdicts against Akle and Whiteley.
“They abused the system to cut out competitors and line their own pockets.”
The agency has now secured three convictions in the case after Basil Al Jarah, Unaoil’s 71-year-old former country manager for Iraq, pleaded guilty last year.
The principal suspects in the case, brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, evaded British investigators and pleaded guilty to bribery in the United States after an extradition battle in Italy in 2018.
Akle, 45, Whiteley, 65, and Al Jarah will be sentenced on July 22 and 23, the SFO said.
BRIBERY
Prosecutors said the defendants had conspired with others to pay bribes to public officials at the Iraqi South Oil Company and, in Al Jarah’s case, Iraqi Ministry of Oil representatives, to secure oil contracts for Unaoil and its clients.
Al Jarah admitted to paying more than $6 million in bribes to secure contracts worth $800 million to supply oil pipelines and offshore mooring buoys. Akle and Whiteley were found guilty of paying more than $500,000 in bribes to secure a $55 million contract for offshore mooring buoys.
In his defense, Akle said payments were authorized for security purposes. Whiteley denied knowing about payments but said he wanted a “level playing field” during a competitive tender.
A lawyer for Whiteley was unable to comment and legal representatives for Akle and Bond did not immediately respond to requests for comment.