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Former tourism chief indicted in US for allegedly accepting film festival

Former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Juthamas Siriwan and her daughter have been indicted in California for accepting bribes from American citizens in return for the rights to run the Bangkok International Film Festival.

The federal indictment, unsealed in Los Angeles, accused Juthamas and her daughter Jittisopa of conspiracy and eight other counts under a law that bars US businesses from paying bribes in foreign countries.

If convicted, Juthamas and Jittisopa could each face up to 20 years in prison.

US federal prosecutors said Siriwan accepted US$1.8 million (Bt59.44 million) in bribes from film producers Gerald and Patricia Green from 2002-2007 so the couple could run the BIFF and land other tourism-related deals.

The scheme netted the couple - who allegedly inflated their budgets so Juthamas could be paid off - $13.5 million, authorities said.

The payments, some of which were supposedly made in cash to Juthamas directly, were often disguised as sales commissions of 10-20 per cent.

It was not immediately clear whether Juthamas or Jittisopa were in custody or had retained an attorney, the Canadian Press reported online yesterday.

A TAT spokesperson said current TAT governor Suraphon Svetasreni, deputy governors and legal experts held an urgent meeting in Bangkok yesterday to discuss the issue.

"He [Suraphon] is unlikely to issue an official statement at this stage," the spokesperson said.

The TAT has been waiting two years for Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission to follow up on the US charges.

Last year, it assigned deputy governor Juthaporn Rerngronasa to investigate whether any former or present TAT staff were also involved in the scandal.

Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa said the Juthamas case had been taken up by the Department of Special Investigation and the Foreign Ministry.

The US indictment accuses Juthamas and Jittisopa of opening bank accounts in Singapore and the United Kingdom to receive the bribes.

The Greens were convicted in Los Angeles last September of conspiracy and money laundering and will be sentenced next Thursday.

Gerald, 78, could face more than 30 years in prison, while his 55-year-old wife could receive 19-24 years.

The Greens helped transform the BIFF into a rising star on the international circuit for screening new films, attracting the likes of actors Michael Douglas and Jeremy Irons and director Oliver Stone to Thailand.

The Greens are the first entertainment-industry figures to be convicted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act., a federal statute prohibiting corrupt payments to foreign officials for business purposes.

Gerald paired with Stone to produce "Salvador" (1986), which was nominated for two Academy Awards, and served as executive producer on "Rescue Dawn" (2006), starring Christian Bale.

Patricia produced "Diamonds" (1999), a comedy starring Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall, with her husband.

The extradition of former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Juthamas Siriwan to the US to prosecute her on bribery charge is possible if all protocol requirements are met, a senior public prosecutor said yesterday.

"The process will be even shorter and easier if the US offences against her are the same that have been charged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission," said Sirisak Tiyaphan, director-general of the International Affairs Department under the Office of the Attorney General.

To qualify for her extradition, the US prosecutors need to make a request to the OAG with investigation reports containing sufficient evidence to implicate her. The other legal conditions are that her crimes are liable in both countries and are not based on political persecution.

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