6 June 2024

Thailand’s Attorney-General Naree Tantasathien has another important decision to make in a case with serious political ramifications.

On her agenda is a petition lodged against the liberal Move Forward Party and its leader and PM candidate Pita Limjaroenrat over their policy to amend the lese majeste law.

The petitioner, lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn, believes this policy violates Article 49 of the Constitution, which prohibits the public from exercising its rights and liberties to overthrow the country’s constitutional monarchy.

The clause also states that any person who learns of such an act can call on the attorney-general to request a Constitutional Court order for an end to such acts. If the attorney-general rejects or fails to act on the petition within 15 days, the petitioner can take the complaint directly to the Constitutional Court.

Theerayut took the matter to court after there was no action from the attorney-general for more than 15 days. He had filed his petition on May 30.

The Constitutional Court had earlier this week asked the attorney-general for an update on the petition. A spokesman for the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) later denied the agency was sitting on the petition, saying the office was waiting for documents from relevant organizations and agencies. These documents could have a considerable bearing on the attorney-general’s final decision, he added.

High-profile cases

Naree is Thailand’s first female attorney-general.

In November 2022, she approved the prosecution on sedition charges of three key figures of the dissolved Future Forward Party – Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Pannika Wanich.

Her decision came after the police rejected the public prosecutors’ push to dismiss the case. The police wanted the trio to be charged with sedition for allegedly inciting political gatherings in October 2020. The case was brought by former yellow-shirt activist Suwit Thongprasert, who previously practiced as a monk under the name Phra Buddha Isara before being defrocked and convicted of detaining two policemen.

In the runup to the May 14 general election, Thanathorn, Piyabutr, and Pannika – who are key figures in the Progressive Movement – campaigned for the Move Forward Party. Though the trio have had their electoral rights revoked, they still retain a strong influence in the party, which pulled off a stunning victory on May 14 and is now trying to form a coalition government.

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House cleaning

In March, the attorney-general ordered her office to set up panels to review five criminal cases that may have been overlooked by her predecessors. Her move came after critics said the outcomes of these cases risked tainting the OAG’s reputation.

Critics called on Naree, 64, to clear up doubts raised over these cases before she retires at the end of September. The mandatory retirement age for an attorney general is 65.

The OAG faces several complaints regarding the five cases in question. They involved wealthy suspects facing allegations ranging from masterminding murder, to encroaching on national forest, money laundering, illegal online gambling and smuggling drugs. Among the suspects is Chinese-born alleged crime boss Chaiyanat “Tuhao” Kornchayanant.

In January, the attorney-general gave the green light for prosecutors to indict Tuhao and 40 other suspects on various charges, including association with multinational criminal gangs, drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal possession of firearms, operating an unlicensed entertainment venue, hiring foreigners without work permits, and sheltering illegal immigrants.

First female attorney-general

Born on July 10, 1958, Naree studied law at Chulalongkorn University before becoming a barrister-at-law in Thailand.

She later studied abroad, completing master’s degrees in comparative law at Howard University and in international law at the American University, both in Washington DC. She also completed a master’s in international criminal justice cooperation at Vrije University in Brussels, Belgium.

She began her career at the OAG in 1985 at the Department of Thonburi Criminal Litigation before moving to its Department of Legal Counsel.

Naree has also lectured in law at her alma mater, Chulalongkorn University.

Her previous positions at the OAG include secretary to the attorney-general, deputy director-general and director-general of the Department of Legal Counsel.

She has headed many high-profile cases, including the 1989 Blue Diamond Affair, involving the theft of US$20 million worth of Saudi jewels and the murders of Saudi envoys. She has also been entrusted to examine several important state contracts, including deals to procure COVID-19 vaccines and medications.

In June last year, the Public Prosecution Commission unanimously approved Naree’s nomination as Thailand’s 17th attorney-general, making her the first woman to hold the position in the OAG’s 130 years of operations. Her appointment was endorsed by the Senate in August last year and she assumed office in October.

The newly appointed attorney-general said that in her 37 years at the OAG, she never experienced any gender-based inequality.

“Since my time as a junior public prosecutor, my bosses have never treated people differently because they were men or women,” she said.

As for her work, she said she tries to live by her motto: “Better justice for a better life for all”.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk