11 July 2024

The younger brother of Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was last month sentenced to six months in prison for bribery, despite claiming to be a victim in the case.

Businessman Sakulthorn Juangroongruangkit was found guilty of paying 20 million baht in kickbacks in 2019 to a Crown Property Bureau (CPB) official and a broker in exchange for bypassing bidding on long-term leases for two coveted CPB-owned Bangkok land plots.

One of the two plots, located next to the BTS Skytrain’s Chidlom station on Sukhumvit Road, formerly housed the head office of the now-defunct Telephone Organization of Thailand.

Back then, Sakulthorn was chief executive of property developer Real Asset Development Co Ltd, which is owned and managed by his family.

The company reportedly set its sights on the 12-rai (4.74-acre) plot – a rare, sizeable patch of business district land coveted for large projects such as a hotel, shopping mall, office building, or mixed-use development.

How it began

In 2017, CPB official Prasit Apaipolcharn and land broker Surakit Tangwithuwanit offered to help Sakulthorn’s property company secure a long-term lease of 500 million baht on the coveted Chidlom plot in exchange for 20 million baht in kickbacks. The bribe was paid in three instalments.

Sakulthorn was convinced by two CPB-headed letters addressed to him – one confirming that Real Asset had been selected to develop the plot and the other inviting him to attend a meeting with the CPB to present the development plan.

The businessman eventually realized it was a scam and informed the CPB. In November 2019, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases sentenced Prasit and Surakit to three years in jail for bribe-taking and falsifying documents. The pair were released in December 2020.

Former Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong then petitioned the Attorney-General’s Office and the Royal Thai Police to ask why Sakulthorn had not been charged with bribery given the bribe-takers had been convicted and jailed.

The Crime Suppression Division subsequently charged Sakulthorn with bribery and the case went to trial in September last year.

‘It was not a bribe’

Sakulthorn, who has been released on bail of 150,000 baht pending an appeal, argued that the 20-million-baht payment was simply a brokerage fee paid in line with the law.

The businessman said he presented the forged documents to the CPB to check after realizing he had been duped, adding that his information had led to legal action and the imprisonment of Prasit and Surakit.

He described himself as the victim of a fraud committed by a public official, and not the perpetrator of a crime, saying that it was he who alerted the CPB in good faith about the scam. He said that he did not want the CPB’s reputation to be tainted by rogue officials.

In a six-point open letter released after the court verdict against him, the property tycoon complained: “I reported an irregularity but ended up becoming a defendant in a corruption case.”

Sakulthorn said that he respected the court’s verdict but reserved his right to “fight the case to the end”.

He insisted he had done nothing wrong, saying that he was ready to offer his explanation and “prove his innocence” in court.

“If I had colluded in the wrongdoing, why did I report the scam and get myself in legal trouble?” he asked in his letter, which was issued a day after he was found guilty by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases.

‘Politically motivated’

Sakulthorn, 41, is one of Thanathorn’s four siblings, comprising two brothers and two sisters.

Thanathorn is the ex-leader of the reformist Future Forward Party, which was dissolved by a court order in 2020 for accepting illegal donations.

He and other executives of the disbanded party were banned from politics for 10 years on a charge that many observers said was politically motivated.

Thanathorn has retained influence in Future Forward’s reincarnation, Move Forward, which is now the main opposition party.

Pannika Wanich, another key Progressive Movement figure, said recently that the landgrab allegation against Sakulthorn was politically motivated and designed to undermine Thanathorn’s popularity as he campaigned ahead of local elections in December.

Sakulthorn was replaced as Real Asset’s CEO by his younger brother Bodintorn after the bribery case went to trial last year.

Real Asset’s largest shareholder is Juang Pattana Holding Co Ltd, which is owned and managed by the Juangroongruangkit family.

Sakulthorn is a major shareholder in dozens of companies owned and run by his family, including Real Asset, Thai Summit, and Juang Pattana.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk