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General news >> Thursday December 20, 2007
Juthamas to quit in bribe row

Ex-TAT chief denies taking $1.7m payment

POST REPORTERS

The political career of the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Juthamas Siriwan, was intatters last night against the backdrop of a bribery scandal involving the way TAT awarded the rights to manage international film festivals.

Ms Juthamas, a deputy leader and party-list candidate of Puea Pandin, could face a graft inquiry if the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) decides to step in.

She denied any wrongdoing yesterday, but said she would submit her resignation from the party today so that its election campaign would not be affected.The prospect of an inquiry was prompted by a criminal complaint against an American couple, accused by US authorities of conspiring to pay bribes of more than $1.7 million (currently 52 million baht) to a governor of TAT, to obtain a film festival contract and other deals with TAT, worth more than $10 million.

The US Department of Justice said Gerald Green, 75, and his wife, Patricia, 52, of Los Angeles, were arrested on Tuesday for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly paying bribes to a Thai government official to obtain lucrative contracts to run the Bangkok International Film Festival and other deals.

The Greens set up a company, Film Festival Management, in 2003 to bid for the rights to organise the Bangkok International Film Festival (BKKIFF).

Between 2003 and 2007, the couple allegedly funneled cash to the Thai tourism official who used the money to influence the way contracts to run the festival were awarded.

While not naming the official, the US department says the person was the president of the Bangkok International Film Festival and TAT governor.

Ms Juthamas was TAT governor from 2002 to 2006.

''As a result of [the person's] position at the TAT, the governor was able to influence the awarding of BKKIFF contracts as well as other TAT contracts.

''More than $1.7 million in payments were allegedly made for the benefit of the governor,'' said the US department.

The Greens, it said, also attempted to conceal the bribes by using different business entities in their dealings with TAT to hide the large amount paid under contracts, and by making ''commission'' payments to the governor through foreign bank accounts held by intermediaries.

The FBI has been investigating the Greens. According to investigation documents backing the charges against the couple, the Greens transferred more than $1.7 million to bank accounts held by Thais in Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Jersey.

''The listed account holder of several of these accounts was the adult daughter of the TAT official,'' the US department said.

Ms Juthamas denied any involvement in the scandal, and threatened to sue the US authorities.

''I am confident that I am not involved. If the inquiry implicates me, they are slinging mud. If this is the case, I will sue them,'' she said.

She insisted the contracts with the company set up by the Greens were made in a straightforward and transparent manner and suspected that the allegation against her stemmed from an internal conflict in the firm.

''I want to make it clear that the case involves American people and it is the business [of the US authorities] to investigate,'' she said.

NCCC member Klanarong Chantik said consideration was being given to initiating an inquiry.

Officials were gathering facts for the NCCC's consideration and will work with the Foreign Affairs Ministry if it needs further information from the US.

Justice permanent secretary Jarun Pukditanakul yesterday called on the NCCC to launch an inquiry into the scandal without waiting for a complaint to be filed. He said the Anti-Money Laundering Office will step in only after the NCCC begins a probe.

Tourism and Sports Minister Suvit Yodmani said the NCCC has authority to handle the case. The ministry would also set up a committee to investigate.

Gerald Green, a film producer, has more than a dozen movie producer credits, including Salvador and Rescue Dawn.


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