PM, DPM Wissanu and Foreign Minister grilled over Philip Morris tax evasion case
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngarm and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai have come under attack, on the last day of the censure debate today by Pheu Thai MP Sarunvuth Sarungate, over their alleged mishandling of the tax evasion case, involving the Thai subsidiary of tobacco giant Philip Morris International, which resulted in revenue losses estimated at over 80 billion baht.
In November last year, the Criminal Court fined Philip Morris (Thailand) Limited (PML) 1.2 billion baht after finding the company guilty of under declaring the value of Marlboro and L&M brand cigarettes imported from the Philippines between 2003 and 2006.
Citing evidence he had obtained, Saranvuth accused the three ministers of favouring the cigarette giant by delaying litigation against PML, through the invocation of the special executive power and by amending the Customs Act to reduce the fine, despite the Government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra having instructed the Office of Attorney-General to file charges of customs tax evasion against the company back in 2013.
He claimed that a related WTO ruling was not legally binding and that there was no need for the Government to comply with it by amending the customs law.
Under the old customs law, Saranvuth said PML should have been fined 84 billion for tax evasion, instead of just 1.2 billion baht as ruled by the Criminal Court, and accused Dr. Wissanu and Mr. Don of sending a top-secret letter, dated March 7th last year, to Prime Minister Prayut recommending that he settle the legal dispute with PML over the tax evasion case.
The Pheu Thai MP said that the Government also changed the cigarette tax structure by setting the excise tax for one pack of cigarettes, priced at more than 60 baht, at 40%.
The exorbitant excise tax has seriously affected cigarettes produced locally by the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, allowing foreign cigarettes to take 55% of the market.