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NACC begins probe into Thaksin aircraft purchases

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has launched a probe into ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s decision to approve Thai Airways International Plc’s (THAI) plan to purchase Airbus aircraft worth more than 53 billion baht years ago.

The move by the fugitive former prime minister allegedly led to huge losses.

Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, deputy secretary-general of the NACC, said the commission has set up a nine-member panel to look into allegations that Thaksin approved the purchase of multiple Airbus A340-500 and A340-600 aircraft between 2002 and 2004. He said the decision plunged the airline into debt.

Apart from Thaksin, there are four other people suspected of being involved in the decision, Mr Niwatchai said.

The other four are Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkij, who served as transport minister at the time; former deputy transport minister Phichet Sathirachawal; former THAI board chairman Thanong Bidaya and former THAI president Kanok Abhiradee, according to an Isra News Agency report.

Between 2002 and 2004, Thaksin’s cabinet approved THAI’s plan to purchase 10 A340-500 and A340-600 aircraft worth about 53.5 billion baht. The purchase plan was submitted by Mr Suriya at the time.

The purchase of A340-500 aircraft was also mentioned in report by a fact-finding panel set up on Aug 28 by the Transport Ministry to look into alleged corruption in THAI. Pol Lt Gen Charnthep Sesawet was assigned as head of the panel.

The report pointed out that THAI’s financial losses were the result of the purchase of the 10 aircraft, which was carried out under a procurement plan between 2003 and 2004.

According to the report, the aircraft were in service between July 2005 and Jan 7, 2013, on 51 routes, including Bangkok-New York and Bangkok-Los Angeles. But THAI ended up suffering 39.8 billion baht in losses on all the routes, it said.

In particular, flights on the Bangkok-New York and Bangkok-Los Angeles routes recorded losses of more than 12.4 billion baht as Airbus A340-500s and A340-600s are meant for long-haul flights, the report said, noting the airplanes consumed huge amounts of fuel but did not have many seats.

Moreover, the aircraft were in use for only six to 10 years, lower than the general threshold of 20 years of service, and this was not cost-effective, according to the report.

The aircraft in question are now decommissioned, and waiting to be sold but THAI also suffered an impairment loss of more than 22.9 billion baht, it said.

Thaksin faced several other legal wrangles, including charges over the Ratchadaphisek land purchase case. On Oct 21, 2008, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions sentenced him in absentia to two years in jail, convicting him of violating the National Counter-Corruption Act.

The move to probe Thaksin’s airplane purchases comes amid his criticism of the current government via the Clubhouse app under the alias of Tony Woodsome. He has taken aim at the Prayut Chan-o-cha government over several issues, including the handling of the Covid-19 crisis and the economic problems caused by the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Thaksin appeared on Clubhouse again, discussing a topic on Thai politics and the future of young Thais.

At one point, he said the government should sit down for talks with young people, adding that use of violence against protesters will not help.

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