30 March 2017
Former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Juthamas Siriwan, 70, was handed a jail term for 50 years for accepting $1.8 million in bribes from two Hollywood producers to let them organize the Bangkok International Film Festival between 2002 and 2007, Bangkok Post reported. Her daughter, Jittisopha Siriwan, 43, was sentenced to 44 years on Wednesday for opening accounts in foreign banks to enable her mother to deposit the kickbacks. The court ordered confiscation of $1.8 million from them. The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) charged the mother and daughter with corruption in 2015. Juthamas was tried by the Central Court for Corruption and Misconduct, set up last year to hear cases against state officials accused of graft and misconduct. It is part of the Criminal Court. It denied a request to allow the women to be freed on bail as they were considered flight risk.
In 2009, the Gerald Green and Patricia Green were found guilty under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering laws in the U.S. after it was found that they paid $1.8 million in kickbacks to the governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority to run the Bangkok International Film Festival. The couple were the first members of the entertainment industry to be prosecuted under the FCPA. A judge ordered six months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release and $250,000 in restitution. They served time in jail and lost an appeal in 2013. Green died on 24 July 2015 in his Los Angeles home from complications arising from emphysema.
Juthamas Siriwan is already 70 years old. Therefore, the length of her prison sentence is not going to make world of a difference to her. But 50 and 44 year terms appear to be too long for such corruption crimes. It is clear that Thai government wants to eradicate corruption. This can be seen from the setting up of the special court for corruption offences. The government is also considering death penalty for corruption. For a country that ranks 101/176 in the TI’s corruption perception index, this is an important issue. But the authorities must understand that severity of the punishment alone will not reduce the corruption. Corruption in Thailand is very different from President Duterte’s drug problem.
Just compare the punishment given to Greens under the FCPA corruption – 6 months’ jail verses 50 years’ term for Siriwan.
We can look at this in another angle. Jittisopha Siriwan was a party leader and head of Tourism Board during Thaksin Shinawatra term as prime minister. The government is trying to put him and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who later became prime minister, behind bars. So, it is not clear whether there is a witch-hunt at play.