Thai minister resigns over court petition seeking PM’s ouster for appointing him

Forty senators, who petitioned Constitutional Court, say ex-minister should not have been appointed because of criminal record.
Ruj Chuenban
2024.05.21
Bangkok
Thai minister resigns over court petition seeking PM’s ouster for appointing him Prachit Chuenban, who resigned May 21 as a minister, is seen in this photograph he posted on his Facebook account, with the caption saying he was attending a meeting chaired by the Thai prime minister, in Bangkok on May 9, 2024.
[via Facebook/ Dr.Pichit Chuenban]

A Thai minister resigned Tuesday after a legal petition sought to oust Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin for allegedly violating the constitution by appointing him to the cabinet despite his criminal record.

According to the 40 senators who filed the petition with the Constitutional Court last Friday, Pichit Chuenban was not qualified to be a minister because he had been imprisoned for six months for contempt of court in 2008.

The court is scheduled to make a decision Thursday on whether it will hear the case. Srettha had named Pichit minister to the Prime Minister’s Office in a cabinet reshuffle in late April.

In his resignation letter, Pichit said he was “not attached” to his ministerial position.

“Even though I have examined the petition and sincerely believe that I possess all the qualifications required by law, this matter has implicated the Prime Minister,” he said. 

He said he was resigning “to allow the country to move forward and not affect the prime minister’s administration of state affairs.”

This was a complete about-turn from right after the senators had filed their petition on May 17. At that time, he steadfastly stuck to the position that he would not resign.

When reporters asked him on Tuesday whether there was any other reason he quit or whether he had spoken to Srettha before deciding to resign, Pichit didn’t answer.

“There was no pressure [to resign],” he said.

On Monday, Srettha, who was on a state visit to Italy, told the media that he had not had the opportunity to discuss the case with Pichit.

“I haven’t talked to Pichit about this at all. I’m not aware of the matter either,” he said.

“If I have time, I’ll have to call him to discuss how he plans to explain to the Constitutional Court. We have to respect all parties.”

Th-pic-TWO.jpg
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (left) shakes hands with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner before the Emilia Romagna Formula One Grand Prix race at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari racetrack in Imola, Italy, May 19, 2024. [Luca Bruno/Pool/AP]

In their petition to court, the senators alleged that Pichit had been involved in graft in 2008. 

“Pichit has engaged in corrupt behavior, bribing the justice system, and his case was brought to the Lawyers Council of Thailand to have his name removed from the list of lawyers. Therefore, it is a clear case that he lacks evident honesty and has seriously violated or failed to comply with ethical standards,” part of the petition stated.

They were referring to what has come to be called the “snack bag case,” in which Pichit was a lawyer for some time, serving as an attorney for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife in a land purchase issue.

At the time, he allegedly tried to bribe court officials with 2 million baht (U.S. $54,960) that he put in a grocery paper bag, pretending he was bringing a snack for a court officer. He was held in contempt and put behind bars for six months.

Pichit’s appointment as minister all these years later demonstrates that influential people often enjoy impunity for their actions and are very rarely brought to account, said Piyapong Pimpaluck, from Chiang Mai University’s Social Research Institute.

“This case reflects the structural problems of the Thai political system, where those in power can still appoint their tainted associates to important positions,” the assistant professor said.

“Therefore, reforms are needed that focus on creating accountable mechanisms whenever ministers or committees are appointed, to prevent such problems.”

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