12 July 2024

The Thai government’s chief whip and Palang Pracharat MP, Wirat Rattanaseth, and 86 other people, including school directors, local politicians and teachers, were indicted today by public prosecutors before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders over alleged corruption in the construction of futsal courts at hundreds of schools in 17 northern and north-eastern provinces.

Only 81 of the defendants showed up today to acknowledge the charges. The six others, including Mr. Wirat, were not present, citing various reasons.

The scandal dates back to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, when several MPs, during budget scrutiny in parliament, diverted an estimated 4.4 billion baht, originally earmarked for construction and maintenance of school buildings damaged by natural disasters, to the building of futsal courts, supposedly to promote the sport among local students.

In Nakhon Ratchasima province alone, futsal courts were built in 56 schools, instead of the original plan for only a handful. Hence, the budget for each court has been reduced substantially, resulting in the substandard quality of almost all the courts.

Most of the courts were built outdoors on basketball courts, instead of indoors. In many cases, the floor mats peeled up, even before the courts opened for use. They are now abandoned.

Many futsal courts in other provinces also suffered the same fate. The massive corruption has been investigated by both the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, with most of the cases still pending.

In March this year, several teachers implicated in the scandal lodged a petition with the NACC seeking justice, claiming that they had nothing to do with the graft, but were duped by local politicians to accept the projects with the honest intention of promoting the sport among their students.