13 July 2018
Supreme Court orders Vatana, 10 more jailed over Klong Dan
The Supreme Court has sentenced fugitive politician Vatana Asavahame and 10 others to between three and six years in jail in connection with the Klong Dan wastewater treatment project, one of the largest and longest-running corruption cases in the country’s history.
The decision, read out on Friday in the Dusit District Court, overturned a 2013 Appeal Court ruling that had reversed convictions handed down by a lower court in 2009 — 14 years after the corruption saga began.
Five of the defendants were taken into custody on Friday. Arrest warrants were issued for the six who were not present, including Vatana, a former deputy interior minister who for years ran Samut Prakan province as a family fiefdom. The warrants are good for 10 years from the date of issue.
The court case dates back to 2004 when the Dusit District Court accepted a suit from the Pollution Control Department against 18 defendants: 11 individuals and seven juristic entities. They were accused of fraud related to land transactions in tambon Klong Dan in Bang Bo district of Samut Prakan, and in the 23-billion-baht construction contract for the wastewater treatment facility. The Klong Dan project was first approved in 1995.
The business entities were Vichitphan Construction, Prayoonvisavat Karnchang, Seesaeng Karn Yotha (1979), Krungthon Engineering, Gateway Development, Klong Dan Marine & Fishery, and Palm Beach Development. All were connected in one way or another to politicians.
The people were Vatana; Phisanu Chavananant, director of Vichitphan Construction; Sangworn Liptapanlop, director of Prayoonvisavat Karnchang; Sirote Wongsirotekul, director of Seeaeng Karn Yotha (1979); Niphon Kosaipalakul, director of Krungthon Engineering; Royisaraporn Chutapa, director of Gateway Development; Chalee Chutapa, Praphas Teerasongkran and Chayanat Osathanukroh, directors of Klong Dan Marine & Fishery; Boonsri Pinkhayan, director of Palm Beach Development; and Hong Kong citizen Kwokwa Oyeng, representative of Palm Beach Development.
On Nov 12, 2009, the district court found all of them guilty. The individuals were sentenced to three years in jail and the companies were fined 6,000 baht each.
All of the parties appealed and the Appeal Court acquitted all of them on Nov 19, 2013. It ruled that at the time Palm Beach Development purchased the land in question, the Pollution Control Department had still not finalised the location for the treatment plant. The Pollution Control Department petitioned the Supreme Court, which accepted the case in 2014.
The Supreme Court found all the defendants guilty of fraud in the department’s procurement of 1,900 rai of land at the inflated price of 1.9 billion baht, and in the acquisition of the construction contract.
Phisanu and Royisaraporn were sentenced to six years in jail on both counts. Chalee, Praphas, Chayanat, Boonsri, Kwokwa and Vatana were sentenced to three years each for land procurement fraud. Sangworn, Sirote and Niphon were sentenced to three years for fraud arising from the construction contract.
Vichitphan Construction and Gateway Development were fined a total of 12,000 baht on the two counts. Klong Dan Marine & Fishery and Palm Beach Development were fined 6,000 baht each for land procurement fraud. Prayoonvisavat Karnchang, Seesaeng Karn Yotha (1979) and Krungthon Engineering were fined 6,000 baht each for fraud in the construction contract.
Phisanu, Sangworn, Niphon, Praphas and Boonsri were taken to jail. Royisaraporn, Chalee, Chayanat and Vatana face arrest warrants. Sirote and Kwokwa, who were absent for the first time on Friday, also face arrest warrants and the court has set Aug 22 as the date to read the rulings against them.
Nakrit Savetanant, a lawyer for the Pollution Control Department, said it would file a civil lawsuit to demand 23 billion baht in damages in connection with the project, which is almost completed but has never been commissioned.
Suwat Liptapanlop, who served as science minister in the Democrat government headed by Chuan Leekpai, first proposed the wastewater treatment project in 1995. Prayoonvisavat Karnchang, one of the companies convicted in the case, was founded by Mr Suwat’s father Visava.
One of the other companies convicted, Seesaeng Karn Yotha, was founded by Banharn Silpa-archa, whose party at the time was a coalition partner with the Democrats.
Other cabinet-level supporters of the project were Vatana, who was then the deputy interior minister, and Yingphan Manasikarn, then minister of natural resources and environment, who died in 2003.
Initially, the project site was located in Phra Samut Chedi and Phra Pradaeng districts. The treatment facility was divided into two sections — one on the western side of the Chao Phraya River to accommodate waste from Phra Samut Chedi, Phra Pradaeng and Suksawat Road, and the other on the eastern side to accommodate waste from Muang, Phra Pradaeng, Bang Pu and Bang Phli districts of Samut Prakan. The construction cost was estimated at 13.6 billion baht.
Later the project location was shifted to tambon Klong Dan and the cost ballooned to 23.7 billion baht. Public land had been fraudulently acquired with title deeds issued to private owners, who then inflated the price before the land was sold to the Pollution Control Department.
Vatana was earlier sentenced to 10 years in jail for bribery for the issuance of involved land title deeds. He fled the country in 2008 before the sentence was handed down.