Amlo Scandal: Thaksingate?

Even before the dust had a chance to settle after the Defense Energy Department’s suspension of Nation Multimedia Group’s news programs on its 9o.5 MHZ radio station, Thaksin’s government has launched another strike on media, the “fishy” order of Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) to 17 commercial banks to disclose the assets of prominent journalists and publishers as well as their family’ members.

While the findings of a panel set up by the government concluded the Amlo order was wrongfully issued, without solid grounds to justify the investigation and that officials involved would face disciplinary actions, it fails to clear one big question regarding who masterminded the order.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who by law supervises this quasi-independent body has distanced himself from the order. He said only sane man can do that and such investigation could only be initiated only if there were sufficient grounds. Nevertheless, at the height of his administration’s heavy-handed approaches to silence critics among the media, Thaksin failed to dispel doubts over why those who were being investigated by Amlo appeared to include strong critics of himself and his administration.

Click here to find news clips complied from Bangkok Post and The Nation that followed the events surrounding the Amlo’s unlawful investigation since it was leaked to the public on March 6, 2002

AmloScandal:
March 7, 2002

Furore over probe into bank accounts of media members
Nation Group editor slams `Thaksingate’

Source: Bangkok Post

The government yesterday ordered a probe into whether the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) had arbitrarily launched an investigation into the assets of media figures and their families.

The order followed revelations that Pol Col Seehanart Prayoonrat, director of Amlo’s evaluation centre, had issued a letter to executives of 17 banks asking them to provide information on the finances of 34 juristic entities, opposition politicians and journalists.

Nation Multimedia Group Plc, Nation Multimedia Publishing Group and NMG News Co, which is also under the Nation umbrella, were among the organisations investigated by Amlo, as well as Thai General Group and Kilen Printing, which are affiliated with the Thai Post newspaper.

Fourteen individuals also were mostly prominent journalists of the Nation Multimedia Group such as Suthichai Yoon, Thepchai Yong and Sophon Onk-gara, Roj Ngammaen of Thai Post, and their wives and children.

Initially, the government and concerned officials dismissed the letter as a fake.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, when asked about the matter, denied knowing anything.

He said the Amlo had no power to do this. The agency could act in this manner only after having sufficient information to believe assets of those firms and individuals had been acquired illegally through seven types of wrongdoing.

The seven types under article 40 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act are related to trade in narcotics; sexual offences under the Penal Code such as procuring and seducing women and children for prostitution; public fraud; violence against property or dishonest conduct under the law on commercial banking; corruption; extortion and blackmailing involving secret societies or criminal associations, and smuggling of contraband.

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Banks told to open books

Source: Bangkok Post

The Anti-Money Laundering Office has sent a letter to the managing directors of 17 banks, asking them to provide financial information on five juristic entities and 14 individuals.

The letter, dated Feb 25 and citing article 40 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 1999, asked the banks to co-operate by gathering the information in secret and sending it in the form of Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheet by email to info@amlo.go.th.

The banks were required to provide information on transactions and balances in the bank statements from 2001 to the present.

Transactions on other assets such as mortgages and leases of safe deposit boxes were also required.

The letter was signed by Pol Col Seehanart Prayoonrat, director of Amlo’s centre of information technology and evaluation.

Mr Thaksin said the Amlo could not take any action at will, but had to act on solid information.

Pol Col Seehanart, the man who allegedly signed the order, declined to comment, saying his boss has forbidden him.

Asked if the allegation was true, he said he couldn’t say anything at this time, only that he signed thousands of such orders and could not remember having signed any against the well-known journalists.

Gen Thammarak Issarangkul na Ayuthaya, the PM’s Office minister overseeing Amlo, strongly denied the agency had issued an order for such action.

“I’ve asked the Amlo secretary about this and he has denied his office had issued such a letter,” said Gen Thammarak, referring to Pol Col Peeraphan Premputi.

When contacted, Pol Col Peeraphan denied any knowledge of such a letter.

Gen Thammarak cast doubt over its authenticity, noting the document might have been forged. He said a panel would be set up to investigate whether Amlo was directly responsible for issuing the order.

The former armed forces intelligence chief said that as minister directly in charge of the office, he had to be consulted first since “this is quite a serious matter”.

“I wasn’t aware of this. No-one consulted me over the matter,” Gen Thammarak said.

But several bankers confirmed that the Amlo had in fact submitted various lists of names over the past several months for “special monitoring” of their bank accounts.

“These letters, classified as secret, went directly to the president of each local bank. The Amlo did not specify the reason for the inquiry, only that there was cause for suspicion of questionable activities based on other information,” one top banker said.“The Amlo did not ask for specific reports to be sent on each person’s banking transactions, only that each institution monitor activity of their accounts,” said the banker.

Another senior banker confirmed the latest lists contained the names of several leading journalists, which was in contrast to previous requests that had focused mostly on opposition politicians. Altogether there were 34 names on the lists.

“In practice, a request from the Amlo means we have to collate all the transaction records of a given individual for submission if requested,” he said.

Suthichai Yoon, editor of Nation Multimedia Group, said if Amlo had really acted this way, Prime Minister Thaksin would have to be held responsible since the agency came directly under the PM’s Office.

Mr Suthichai said he did not think the work of the mass media would be in the proximity of the seven types of wrongdoing used by the Amlo to take action against suspected money launderers.

“This reminds me of Watergate. But we will have to call this one Thaksin-gate,” Mr Suthichai said.

Varin Pulsirivong, chairman and managing director of the Naew Na newspaper, who was also on the list of people subject to having their assets examined, said he yesterday sent a letter to Pol Col Seeha-nart, director of Amlo’s centre of information technology and evaluation, seeking an explanation.

Mr Varin said if Amlo had really acted in this manner it would be tantamount to a severe violation of individual rights since he was only an ordinary businessman who should not have been suspected of committing any of the specified wrongful acts.

Roj Ngnammaen, a wellknown columnist under the pen name Plaew Si-ngern and shareholder of Thai Post, said he was not aware he had been suspected of involvement in any illegal activities that warranted Amlo’s action.

“If the action was taken on an order from the prime minister, then Mr Thaksin would be digging his own grave.” he said.

“In hitting the media, the government would be hitting its own shadow. It would be absurd if the government blamed its shadow for not dancing as well as it should.”

Gothom Arya, a former election commissioner and a veteran human rights advocate, said the government might be trying to emulate Malaysia’s method of dealing with the media.

“The guiding motto of either government seems to be `You’ve got power, use power; you’ve got the law, use the law’,” said Mr Gothom, now the registrar at the Asian Institute of Technology.

He urged the media to invoke the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

“Make use of the law. Take your case to the Administrative Court or the Constitutional Court. Put your case forward to the ombudsman or the National Human Rights Commission.”

March 8, 2002

House asked to take up fight
Inquiry sought as court appeal lodged

Source: Bangkok Post

Media professionals are going to ask the parliament president and the senate speaker to investigate the conduct of the government over alleged media intimidation, which could lead to an impeachment process against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

An open letter signed by hundreds working in print and electronic media would be submitted on Monday to Parliament President Uthai Pimchaichon and Senate Speaker Maj-Gen Manoonkrit Roopkachorn.

The letter charges the government with gross infringement of press freedom and acting in violation of the constitution during a series of recent moves against the media, the latest being the termination of a radio programme broadcast by Nation Multimedia Group, and investigations into the assets of a number of top media figures and their families.

The government had intensified its hostility towards the media despite several warnings from academics and press associations, the letter claims.

The Senate possesses the authority to dismiss holders of any political office found guilty of power abuses that violate the constitution.

The government’s war with the local press erupted on March 4, when the Defence Energy Department abruptly banned radio broadcasts on the Nation Multimedia Group’s FM 90.5 MHz frequency.

Subsequent revelations that the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) had ordered 17 banks to examine the financial backgrounds of prominent media figures critical of the government _ including Nation Group editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon, Thai Post adviser and columnist Roj Ngammaen, and Naew Na managing-director Warin Poonsiriwong _ sparked uproar.

Mr Suthichai, Nation Group editor Thepchai Yong and senior editor Sopon Onkgara yesterday petitioned the Administrative Court to revoke the Amlo order. Their suit named as defendants Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in his capacity as Amlo chairman, Amlo secretary-general Peerapan Premmabhuti and information centre director Sihanart Prayoonrat.

According to Mr Thepchai, the National Human Rights Commission had recommended the suit after agreeing Amlo had openly infringed on personal rights and freedom.

According to Mr Suthichai, “The government is using state mechanisms to harass those who think differently.”

As Amlo chairman, the prime minister could not deny responsibility, he added.

“This is the first time in 10 years that we have a civilian government that preaches democracy, but it is in fact an authoritarian entity using state power to eliminate its political enemies,” Mr Suthichai said.

Ten groups representing the media industry will hold a public forum tomorrow at Thammasat University to be attended by senators, rights activists, lawyers, representatives of non-governmental organisations, journalists, pollsters and academics.

March 9, 2002

Activists look at legal action
Office could be sued for exceeding remit

Source: Bangkok Post

Rural activists were considering their course of action yesterday after it was revealed that many members of non-governmental organisations had been targeted for assets probes by the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

Peeraphan Prempooti, Amlo secretary-general, arrives at Government House to report on Amlo inquiries into the wealth of senior media figures. _ APICHIT JINAKUL

The revelation followed similar moves by Amlo this week against prominent media figures.

Varathep Ratanakorn, deputy finance minister overseeing the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives, confirmed BAAC executives had ordered branch managers nationwide to report to Amlo on the assets of 64 NGO members, comprising 20 Thais and 44 foreign nationals.

Amlo had requested the information in an official letter, he added.

Among those included on the list were Wanida Tantiwithayapitak, Bamrung Khayotha and Chaiyaphan Prapasawat from the Assembly of the Poor; Banjong Nasae, an opponent of the Thai-Malaysian gas-pipeline project; Charoen Wat-aksorn, leader of a protest against the Bo Nok power plant project in Prachuap Khiri Khan; Pakphum Witharntirawat, an advocate of the community forest project; farm activist Asok Prasarnsorn; and Prayong Doklamyai, a member of the Northern Network.

Mr Prayong said the leaders of many local groups would join lecturers from the Midnight University lobby group in demanding the government clarify who was behind the move and if the action was lawful. They would also demand Amlo be ordered to publicise its findings.

The protest group was considering whether to sue Amlo in the Administrative Court for power abuse, while seeking further support from NGOs.

According to Mr Prayong, the government was using intimidation as a method to silence its dissenters.

“The government is scheduled to make a final decision on several large projects in April. Some opponents of these projects are among those being investigated by Amlo,” he said. “There has been no progress towards solving outstanding disputes and this is simply an attempt by the government to distort information.”

Leading social activist Auychai Watha, chairman of the Assembly of Northeastern Farmers, said he believed the investigations were ordered by close aides of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra without the premier’s approval.

“The people around the prime minister planned this, thinking it would please him,” said Mr Auychai.

Meanwhile, eight Thai Rak Thai executives and MPs _ Suranan Vejjajiva, Watana Sengpairoh, Sansanee Nakpong, Pimook Simaroj, Sqn-Ldr Sitha Divari, Siri Wangboonkerd, Pattarasak Osathanukhroh and Pramon Kunakasem _ issued a statement opposing violations of press freedom, while calling on the media to continue reporting the news in an accurate and balanced fashion.

They urged Mr Thaksin to order a probe if evidence suggested irregularities in the Amlo investigations.

March 10, 2002

PM denies `senseless’ orders
Too busy to bother intimidating the press

Source: Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says no sane man would tell the Anti-Money Laundering Office to pry into bank accounts of his critics.

“I am not crazy. I did not and would not do something senseless like that,” Mr Thaksin said.

In his regular Saturday radio address, Mr Thaksin said examining the finances of executives from The Nation, Thai Post and Naew Na newspapers would do him no good, while the damage to the government could be enormous.

The prime minister said he was too busy to bother about intimidating the press. “I’ve felt unhappy about that all week. I have no idea how such a thing could happen,” he said.

Media figures subject to Amlo scrutiny have blamed Mr Thaksin, saying that as Amlo chairman the prime minister could not deny responsibility.

The opposition said Amlo could not act in such a way without getting an order from its political supervisors.

Mr Thaksin, however, denied interfering in its operations, saying Amlo was independent. He said it was wrong for Amlo to look into bank statements unless it had evidence that someone had committed the seven offences under anti-money laundering law which justified financial checks.

The prime minister said the foreign media would certainly see the Amlo scandal as good fodder for stories and that their criticism could affect the investment climate.

He told cabinet secretary-general Visanu Krue-ngam, who chairs a fact-finding panel, to find out who gave the probe order and whether it was genuine.

Mr Thaksin said wrongdoers would be punished whether they were his close aides or Amlo authorities.

Amlo secretary-general Peeraphan Prempooti has denied ordering 17 banks to check the accounts. He also doubted the order was real.

The order allegedly was signed by Amlo information centre director Sihanart Prayoonrat.

Democrat MP Peeraphan Saleeratwipak, as chairman of the House anti-corruption committee, said Amlo officials would not do anything to break the law even if they could defy their political masters.

Mr Peeraphan said Pol Col Sihanart once guaranteed the anti-money laundering law would never be used in a way that infringed on people’s rights and freedom. The law allowed investigations only where Amlo had evidence to substantiate money-laundering activities through financial institutions.

Mr Peeraphan said Amlo could not just tell banks it suspected some of their customers had broken the law and ask to see their statements.

“That is unlawful. Pol Col Sihanart has breached the law himself,” he said.

Mr Peeraphan said findings of the Visanu panel must be revealed publicly.

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Activist urges PM to apologise over probe

Source: Bangkok Post

A leading Assembly of the Poor adviser has demanded Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra apologise to the people for violating their privacy.

Chaiyapan Prapasawat is one of 64 people, most of them media professionals and members of NGOs, whose bank accounts were checked at the order of the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

Mr Chaiyapan said he was disappointed with the government, given that he had always considered himself its supporter.

He said Deputy Agriculture Minister Praphat Panyachartrak asked him to help end protests in the provinces on several occasions, adding the minister helped pay his travelling expenses.

“I don’t understand why Amlo has targeted me since the money comes from Mr Praphat,” Mr Chaiyapan said.

The activist was speaking at a Thammasat University forum on press freedom held yesterday by print and broadcast associations.

The signatures of more than 1,000 journalists, NGO workers, senators, former charter writers and academics have already been gathered to back a petition seeking an end to the intimidation of the press through Parliament President Uthai Pimchaichon and Senate Speaker Manoonkrit Roopkachorn.

The petition would be handed to Mr Uthai and Maj-Gen Manoonkrit tomorrow.

Kanin Boonsuwan, a former charter writer, said media groups should ask the ombudsman to check the legality of Amlo’s financial scrutiny order.

The forum agreed that Amlo’s intrusion of the people’s privacy was testament to the prime minister’s insincerity towards democratic development.

Reform advocate Prawase Wasi also joined a chorus of criticism against a string of media censorship, which included a ban on certain radio programmes and checks of financial records of some media figures who have been vocal against the government.

In his statement read at the forum, Dr Prawase, a widely-respected scholar, said the government might have to pay a high price for intimidating the media.

He said the government could fall victim to its own action if threats against press freedom did not stop.

The media were not without flaws, he said, but use of power definitely was not the right way to correct them.

Rules should be set for the government and its critics to have equal access to the media and use them in a way fair to both sides, he said.

Dr Prawase said he understood Mr Thaksin became intolerant of criticism because he felt what he was doing was purely for the good of politics, society and the country.

Neither the government nor the people could fight the “new form of foreign intrusion of Thai sovereignty” alone and needed to unite, he said.

“At present, external threats are becoming more dangerous than any other time in our history. The superpowers have used economic tools, weapons and communications to subdue other countries.

“We have already lost our economic sovereignty. Next will be political sovereignty and the right of Thai people to chart their own future.

“The foreign media’s strong attacks on the government are part of the superpowers’ efforts to rule the world,” Dr Prawase said.

The prime minister could not overcome greater obstacles with “aggressiveness”, which caused disunity, he said.

Mr Thaksin first needed to command the people’s trust and then use them as forces against all difficulties, he said.

March 11, 200

Resignations demanded
Agency slammed as government’s puppet

Source: Bangkok Post

The Anti-Money Laundering Office has failed to explain why it ordered inquiries into media figures and NGO officials, say democracy and civic groups.

In a joint statement, 31 democracy and civic organisations demanded that Peeraphan Prempooti, Amlo secretary-general, and Sihanart Prayoonrat, director of the information technology and evaluation centre, resign to show responsibility.

They had failed to justify Amlo’s order to 17 banks asking them to report on the assets of media professionals, politicians and NGO leaders.

Suriyasai Katasila, secretary-general for Campaign for Popular Democracy, said the group was concerned Amlo had allowed itself to be manipulated by the government to silence opposition.

“We once considered Amlo an arm of the justice system set up to solve drug and corruption problems.

“Unfortunately, the agency has now become the government’s puppet,” Mr Suriyasai said.

He said Amlo’s order to 17 banks to investigate the bank accounts of media members infringed on the people’s right to privacy.

Boonthan Tansuthepweerawong, of the Human Rights and Resource Centre, said the government should apologise for violating people’s privacy and reveal the names of the 10,000 people Amlo said were having their assets checked.

The group said it would petition the National Counter Corruption Commission to investigate Amlo if the government failed to respond to its demands by Friday, March 15

Amnesty International Thailand yesterday called for an immediate stop to Amlo’s inquiries.

The government had suppressed people’s right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which Thailand ratified in 1997, it said.

The government should review its policy to ensure that the freedom of expression was respected and protected.

March 12, 2002

Senate accepts media petition against govt
PM could lose job if found guilty of abuse

Source: Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could face senate inquiries into allegations he abused press freedom, for which he is liable to expulsion from office if found guilty.

Senate Speaker Manoonkrit Roopkachorn yesterday accepted from Veera Prateepchaikul, president of the Thai Journalists Association, the media’s petition signed by 1,195 reporters, for parliament to decide if the government had breached constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech, the public’s rights to information and individual privacy.

Pradit Charoenthaithawee, a National Human Rights commissioner, pledged to forward the government’s alleged threats against the media to the ombudsman and the Administrative Court for investigation.

Dr Pradit also called on Mr Thaksin, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and PM’s Office Minister Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayuthaya to step down to take responsibility for allegedly ordering the secret probe of assets of media figures and activists of non-governmental organisations.

In presenting the media petition, Mr Veera said: “We hope the legislative branch, as one of the three sovereign powers, will prove a dependable mechanism of the check-and-balance system at this time when the government is misusing its authority.”

Media professionals felt the need to protect their freedom after the government took a series of actions against its critics, which included the revocation of visas of two Far Eastern Economic Review reporters, a scrutiny of an Abac poll, a ban on an issue of The Economist and an order for the Anti-Money Laundering Office to look into bank accounts of 64 journalists, NGOs members and their families.

Nation Group editor Suthichai Yoon and his son, Prabda, group editor Thepchai Yong and senior editor Sopon Onkgara also handed in their letter calling on the Senate to investigate the government for allegedly breaking the anti-money laundering law and discrediting them. The four are among the people facing Amlo’s asset checks.

Mr Suthichai said an inquiry into the Amlo’s financial scrutiny by a government-appointed panel chaired by cabinet secretary-general Visanu Krue-ngam was insufficient.

“How can a panel at such a level question the head of the government who is also the Amlo chairman?” Mr Suthichai said. “We hope the legislative branch is fearless in making leaders of the executive branch speak.”

Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said he would proceed with urgency. Senate whips will meet today and may resolve to assign the task of investigating Amlo to the committee dealing with independent organisations, and alleged media interference to the panel promoting people’s participation in national administration.

Or a special inquiry panel comprising outsiders could also be set up at the media’s request, Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said. The whips will seek the Senate’s endorsement for their resolutions on Friday.

Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said if the Senate found anyone guilty of power abuse under Article 303 of the constitution, and the National Counter Corruption Commission agreed with its resolution, senators could vote that person out of office.

The senate speaker’s eagerness to do his job was in contrast to that of Parliament President and House Speaker Uthai Pimchaichon, who also received the petition yesterday but said he could do nothing because he was powerless.

Mr Uthai, a list MP of the ruling Thai Rak Thai party, said the media should petition directly to concerned House panels such as the House committee on justice and human rights.

“I suggest that you go from bottom-up instead of top-down,” Mr Uthai told Mr Veera. “I want you to understand that the parliament president has no power to expel anyone. That is the job of MPs.”

The House is expected to debate a motion on problems between the media and the government on Thursday.

Nation Group’s Mr Thepchai, meanwhile, turned down the premier’s chief adviser Sanoh Thienthong’s offer to help broker peace between the government and the media, saying he preferred to wait until the people who ordered the financial scrutiny were unmasked.

A talk now, Mr Thepchai said, would make the public misunderstand that the row was between his Nation Group and the government only, despite the fact that violations of freedom of expression had already become one of society’s problems.

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Agency did order checks on journalists

Source: Bangkok Post

The Anti-Money Laundering Office did order banks to check accounts of a number of journalists and activists, cabinet secretary-general Visanu Krue-ngam admitted yesterday.

The Amlo’s action was prompted by tip-offs, probably in the form of telephone calls from neighbours or letters, Mr Visanu said but did not elaborate.

Mr Visanu chairs a government-appointed panel looking into whether Amlo had ordered 17 banks to send to the agency the financial statements of 35 journalists and their family members, as well as how information about such secret inquiries was leaked to the media.

The Visanu panel yesterday began its work by interviewing the Amlo’s secretary-general Peeraphan Prempooti and its information centre director Sihanart Prayoonrat.

The panel also studied relevant documents.

Mr Visanu said Amlo authorities told the panel it did not target any particular individual or profession in its checks.

As a fledgling agency, Mr Visanu said, the Amlo was bound to make some mistakes.

While its asset checks were legal, they might not be fair, he added.

Mr Visanu said his panel was trying to find out where the problems lay so as to suggest corrections through Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who has been assigned by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to supervise the campaign against money laundering. “Amlo may have to adjust its work to guarantee it will not invade anybody’s privacy,” he said.

Mr Visanu said he expected his panel to conclude the investigation by Friday.

Senator Chirmsak Pinthong, meanwhile, doubted the credibility of the probe by the Visanu panel.

“The matter involves government leaders but the investigation is being done by their subordinates,” he said.

There was also criticism over the appointment of Pramote Chotemongkol, the ombudsman secretary-general, to the six-member Visanu panel since it was likely the journalists facing the Amlo scrutiny would turn to the ombudsman to conduct an inquiry.

Mr Pramote quit the panel yesterday.

March 13, 2002

Editor says PM told him to sack writer
Advertisers of `Naew Na’ scared away

Source: Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra desperately wanted to get Naew Na columnist Prasong Soonsiri sacked because of his sharp criticisms of the government, said Warin Poonsiriwong, the paper’s owner.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Public Participation at parliament following tracking of his bank accounts at the order of the Anti-Money-Laundering Office, Mr Warin said Mr Thaksin personally asked him to get rid of the columnist.

He said he rejected the request and received another request from a former director of Thai Rak Thai.

“One of the premier’s men came to see me twice with a proposition that I have Sqn Ldr Prasong’s column terminated from my paper in exchange for eight [libel] lawsuits against me being dropped,” he said.

Sqn Ldr Prasong was critical of the government and was accused of being a source for the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Mr Warin said many of his customers, including state firms, stopped putting their ads in his paper at the request of the government.

Meanwhile, Thai Post owner Roat Ngammaen, whose bank accounts were also probed, blamed Amlo secretary-general Pol Col Piraphan Prempooti for the “unjust” orders. He said the alleged harassment of members of the media were “the acts of the devils”.

“The AMLO secretary-general must take full responsibility, no matter who he may have taken such orders from,” he said.

Pol Col Piraphan earlier denied he was involved in the orders.

Senate committee chairman Chirmsak Pinthong said he would hear testimony next week from the Amlo chief, Amlo head of information, the Nation’s Suthichai Yoon and the premier.

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Rights team plans probe

Source: Bangkok Post

The National Human Rights Commission has promised to investigate the government’s recent conduct with regard to media intimidation.

The commission’s pledge followed a petition lodged by the Thai Journalists Association.

The petition cited several incidents deemed an infringement of freedom of expression, right to privacy and free access to information at the government sector.

Among them the Defence Energy Department’s order to abruptly ban radio broadcasts on the Nation Multimedia Group’s FM 90.5 MHz frequency and the Anti-Money Laundering Office order to ask 17 banks to examine the financial backgrounds of prominent media figures critical of the government.

Saneh Chamarik, one of the commissioners, said the panel was closely watching the situation and raised the issue with the upper and lower houses.

The alleged infringement on individual rights reflected shortcomings in the legislation, he said.

The law should not allow the asset investigations to be carried out in a non-transparent manner.

March 14, 2002

Court suspends checks on editors
Chavalit says agency need not obey order

Source: Bangkok Post

The Administrative Court yesterday suspended temporarily the scrutiny of accounts of three Nation Group editors by Siam Commercial Bank, Bank of Ayudhya and Krung Thai Bank.

The court told Siam Commercial Bank’s Wireless road, Ratchayothin and Klong Tan branches, Bank of Ayudhya’s Nation Tower branch and Krung Thai Bank’s Nana Nua branch to stop checking or sending to the Anti-Money Laundering Office financial statements of editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon, editor Thepchai Yong and senior editor Sopon Onkgara.

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, however, said Amlo would not comply with the court order.

Gen Chavalit, who oversees Amlo, said the agency would have to continue with its job or it could face legal action for negligence.

“The court’s suspension order has nothing to do with Amlo. People have nothing to fear. Is it good to tell somebody not to do his job?

“We will go on with the asset probes on Mr Suthichai and others until we can arrive at a conclusion,” he said.

But Sangsith Viriyarangsan, vice-chairman of the Govenrment’s National Economic and Social Advisory Council, said Amlo had no power to check the assets of the Nation Group’s executives or any other person without proven evidence that they were criminals.

Mr Sangsith, who had researched into the country’s unconventional monetary system which led to the anti-money laundering law, said both Amlo chief Peeraphan Prempooti and the agency’s information centre director Sihanart Prayoonrat had to be sacked outright for exceeding their authority.

The prime minister also needed to take immediate action to show he was not behind the probes, he said.

Nakhon Chompoochart, the lawyer for the three editors, said if the Amlo continued with the probes, its action would be in complete contempt of the court as well as a criminal offence.

The Nation editors had asked for a court protection of their financial information after leaks were made to the press that Amlo had ordered 17 banks to look into the accounts of 35 journalists, including the three editors, and their family members.

The secret investigation sparked a huge media outcry. Members of the press demanded that parliament look into whether the government had breached the constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and individual privacy.

The court said its suspension order would in no way disrupt the Amlo’s work as a whole.

Pol Col Sihanart, the Amlo information director, claimed the probe order was made following a complaint from “an outsider”. So far, none of the 17 banks had sent Amlo the information, he said.

The court said Pol Col Sihanart failed to seek endorsement from an Amlo panel dealing with probes on financial transactions for his order, which was wrong under the anti-money laundering law.

March 15, 2002

Panel finds agency at fault for assets checks
Report to reveal who gave orders today

Source: Bangkok Post

The government-appointed committee found the Anti-Money Laundering Office at fault yesterday for conducting investigations into the assets of senior media figures, politicians and social activists.

Visanu Krue-ngam, cabinet secretary-general and head of an investigation into the Amlo probes, told reporters last night it was up to the government to decide what course of action to take with the agency.

“It’s not my responsibility,” he said. “The country may be dismayed to learn that Amlo lacks good governance.”

According to Mr Visanu, the government was not responsible for ordering the asset checks.

“The probes were not launched on political orders,” he said. “They stem from repeated complaints since December.”

The identities of those who ordered the probes would be revealed in a report to be presented today to Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, deputy prime minister.

The committee recommended in its report that Amlo adjust its working practices.

“Although the agency has been effective in preventing money-laundering, it should also respect individual freedom,” Mr Visanu said, speaking a few hours after an opposition member distributed a document at parliament revealing more targets of Amlo scrutiny.

The list included businessmen Somsak Leesawattrakul, Veena Cherdboonchart, Narong Chokewattana and Chumpol Pornprapa; Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, late former supreme commander, his wife Khunying Orachorn and his common-law wife, Ampapan; former navy chief Prapat Krissanachan; Phetchabun senator Prasong Kositanond and academic Nath Bhamarapravati.

American citizen Peter Jensen, former husband of Princess Ubonrat, was also on the list.

The document was passed on to reporters by Thavorn Sen-nium, a Democrat MP for Songkhla, who said he received a copy from “a reliable source” and was assured it was genuine.

The list was attached to an order for asset probes signed by Amlo information centre director Sihanart Prayoonrat.

Part of the order read: “Please investigate confidentially, avoiding contact with bank branches, the bank accounts, financial transactions and safe-custody items of the following people.”

Issued last year, it requested checks be carried out as far back as Jan 1, 1999.

The document is likely to increase the pressure on Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been dogged by recent allegations of violations of press freedom and civil liberties.

Mr Thaksin, who is also Amlo chairman, has repeatedly denied involvement in the asset checks.

Meechai Ruchphan, a former senate speaker currently serving as the prime minister’s legal adviser, said the power bestowed upon Amlo through the anti-money laundering law could prove to be a double-edged sword.

In an article published at www.meechaithailand.com, Mr Meechai said the law was helpful in allowing Amlo to crack down on criminals, but could cause harm if it was used to persecute innocent people for political gain.

He said the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the PM’s Office minister overseeing Amlo could not deny responsibility and could not avoid being perceived as having abused their power.

Mr Meechai said the law stated only in broad terms the authority held by the Amlo secretary-general and its assets investigation panel, adding the agency could be misinterpreted as being able to wield more power than it is allowed.

He added Amlo would not be able to cite article 40 of the law in justifying the asset probes.

“Nothing in that provision gives Amlo the authority,” he said.

According to Mr Meechai, legal amendments would go further towards solving the problem than punishing the officials responsible.

“We must be able to guarantee to the public that authorities will not exercise more power than is afforded to them by law,” he said.

March 16, 2002

Panel blames two chiefs over probes
Top officials face disciplinary action

Source: Bangkok Post

A government panel yesterday recommended two top officials of the Anti-Money Laundering Office be disciplined for ordering unauthorised investigations into the assets of top media figures and NGO representatives.

Headed by Visanu Krue-ngam, cabinet secretary-general, the panel ruled Peeraphan Prempooti, Amlo secretary-general, and Sihanart Prayoonrat, the agency’s information centre chief, be punished for power abuses.

Panel sources said the pair had been found guilty of negligence and failing to carry out their duties, charges liable to disciplinary procedures.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra confirmed the order to launch the probes had not originated from his government.

“Amlo acted alone,” he said.

PM’s Office Minister Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayuthaya, who oversees Amlo, said the agency had ordered the checks without his approval.

“I was not told anything,” he said. “Had I known, I would not have let it happen.”

According to Gen Thammarak, an Amlo commitee chaired by Pol Col Peeraphan was responsible for ordering the investigations.

One cabinet minister speaking on condition of anonymity said Pol Col Peeraphan and Pol Col Sihanart would likely be removed from their positions.

Mr Thaksin said the panel’s findings should be released on Monday at the latest, adding Amlo’s work procedures would have to be adjusted and its jurisdiction clarified to prevent the targetting of innocent people.

The anti-money laundering law could be reviewed in co-operation with the National Human Rights Commission.

Saying it was damaging to national interests, the prime minister blasted the opposition for disclosing the names of the 247 individuals targetted by Amlo.

Government agencies such as Amlo, the National Counter Corruption Commission and the Revenue Department had legal authority to ask banks for information regarding the financial affairs of anyone under investigation, he said.

Mr Thaksin said he would reveal some of the panel’s findings during his weekly radio address today.

Mr Visanu said he had been informed by Amlo that financial checks on some of the 247 targetted individuals were necessary. For example, he said the assets of the late Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, former supreme commander, had been scrutinised to extract “some special pieces of information.”

Checks on foreign nationals had been requested directly from overseas, Mr Visanu said, but declined to elaborate.

He said Amlo denied targetting business people, claiming these individuals could be under investigation by other agencies, such as the Revenue Department, and had been mistakenly included on the list of Amlo targets.

Amlo had admitted only to having ordered 17 banks to check the accounts of 35 journalists and their family members, he added.

Mr Visanu declined to confirm who had instructed Amlo to investigate the assets of top media figures, saying he would allow the agency’s supervisors to decide whether to make public the findings of his 40-page investigation report.

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday established a panel to look into alleged infringements on press freedoms and civil liberties by Amlo.

Senator Kaewsan Atipho said key government figures, including Gen Thammarak, Pol Col Peeraphan and Pol Col Sihanart, would be called to testify before the panel.

The case would be handled confidentially by both the panel and the Senate, he added.

The senator said Democrat Thavorn Sen-nium could face legal action for publicising the names of the Amlo targets.

Pol Col Peeraphan said the list Mr Thavorn showed to the press was inaccurate and did not originate from Amlo.

But he admitted the assets of the late Gen Sunthorn and his family were investigated by his agency.

March 17, 2002

Peeraphan likely to be the only scapegoat
Democrats doubt Thaksin’s claim

Source: Bangkok Post

The secretary-general of the Anti-Money Laundering Office, Peeraphan Prempooti, will be sacked if he cannot justify his office’s investigation into the assets of top media figures and NGO representatives, said a minister attached to the PM’s Office.

Thammarak Issarangkul na Ayudhya, who supervises the office, said Amlo was legally empowered to order probes of suspects believed to be involved in irregular activities, but it must not abuse its authority or improperly exercise its power.

“Someone has to be responsible if power has been mismanaged by Amlo,” Gen Thammarak said.

He also said the government never ordered such probes.

“I want to reiterate once more that there was no political order calling for such probe.”

Gen Thammarak was Thai Rak Thai’s campaign director in the Northeast during the last general elections.

He said Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the deputy prime minister, called a meeting for tomorrow to study an investigation report conducted by Visanu Krue-ngam, the cabinet secretary general.

“Amlo has to explain during the meeting why it called for a probe of these people and if the order was backed by substantiated evidence,” Gen Thammarak said.

He dismissed calls from leading social activists, who urged himself, Gen Chavalit and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to resign over the case.

“If the investigation panel ruled that I was responsible for ordering the probe, then I will accept it. But this is not the case,” Gen Thammarak said.

Meanwhile, Democrat MPs were yesterday bemused by Mr Thaksin’s claim that he and his family were also investigated by Amlo.

They said the claim was “hard to believe” but urged Amlo to explain why Mr Thaksin might have been investigated.

Peerapan Saleeratthawipak said the country was in trouble if Mr Thaksin’s claim was true.

“The public might think the prime minister was involved in a certain kind of business if he was being investigated. He was an accused criminal so he couldn’t stay on as the prime minister,” he said.

Mr Thaksin made the claim yesterday during his weekly radio address to assure the public the Amlo investigations were not ordered by the government.

The anti-money laundering law requires all financial transactions worth more than 2 million baht be reported to Amlo. So far, 60,000 cases were reported to Amlo since its establishment.

“My name was on a list of 2,395 people,” Mr Thaksin said.

“The investigation was ordered when I was appointed prime minister. But nothing illegal was found.

“If the allegations did not crop up, there was no way I would find out I was also under probe,” he said.

Mr Thaksin said he received the information from a government panel headed by Visanu Krue-ngam, cabinet secretary-general, which investigated the Amlo action.

The panel chairman was expected to go public with the findings on Monday. The report was handed over to Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who oversees Amlo.

The panel reportedly ruled that Mr Peeraphan and Sihanart Prayoonrat, Amlo’s information centre chief, be punished for power abuses.

Mr Peerapan was also less than convinced with the premier’s disclosure.

“The opposition was threatened with legal action when