Bangkok Post 10 July 2008
The long-running corruption saga involving the infamous Klong Dan wastewater treatment project took another unexpected twist yesterday, when veteran politician Vatana Asavahame failed to show up in court to hear the ruling. The Supreme Court therefore issued an arrest warrant for Mr Vatana and rescheduled the hearing for Aug 18.
Mr Vatana, chief advisory chairman of the Puea Pandin party, is being tried by the court for corruption in connection with the issuance of title deeds for 1,900 rai of land in Bang Bo district of Samut Prakan, which was sold to the Pollution Control Department for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant.
Despite the fact that several other people were involved in the scandal, including a few well-known politicians, Mr Vatana is the only one being tried by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions. The other politicians were let off the hook allegedly through political blackmailing and meddling with the justice process.
Mr Vatana himself told the court during the trial that he was prosecuted because he had refused to bow to political pressure to disband his Rassadorn party and merge it with the now defunct Thai Rak Thai party.
While the spotlight has been on Mr Vatana for the simple fact that he is a well-known politician, little attention has been given to the other suspected wrongdoers: the local officials who allegedly helped out in the illegal issuance of title deeds for the land for the project. Five of them were indicted separately in the Criminal Court by special prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney-General on similar charges. But the legal proceedings hit a snag after the Criminal Court threw out the case on grounds that it had no jurisdiction to consider the case, which should be tried by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.
The Criminal Court's decision was upheld by the Appeals Court. However, the public prosecutors were not satisfied and appealed the judgement to the Supreme Court, which has yet to deliver a ruling.
The key point regarding Mr Vatana's five associates is how soon the Supreme Court will deliver the ruling to resolve the question: which court has the jurisdiction to try the case involving non-political office holders in light of the statute of limitations of the case, which is about to expire in October. If the Supreme Court's ruling comes too late, to the extent that the public prosecutors in charge are not able to take the case again to whichever court, be it the Criminal Court or the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions, the five suspected wrongdoers will be let off the hook and walk free without even having been tried. This would be a big humiliation to the justice system.
The public prosecutors may have a valid point in insisting on the Supreme Court's ruling in order to set a precedent on how they are to deal with non-political office holders caught up in irregularities with their political colleagues. In the meantime they must ensure that the suspected wrongdoers are not allowed to walk free - for the simple reason that their case has expired.
The Klong Dan scandal has fittingly been dubbed the "mother of all corruption cases" for the sheer amount of taxpayers' money wasted. Altogether, the Thai public paid 23 billion baht for the project which was almost completed but then dumped, with a total disregard for the damage caused to the state. It is imperative that justice not only be done, but be seen to be done in this shameful case.