11 July 2024

Veteran politician Wirat Ratanaset’s indictment on corruption charges has cast a cloud over his status as government chief whip and is threatening to impact the ruling coalition.

However, he still has a few months before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders decides on December 20 whether to accept the case for trial.

If the trial does go ahead, the law stipulates that Wirat be suspended from duty until the final verdict, unless the court decides otherwise.

On September 14, public prosecutors charged 63-year-old Wirat, his wife Tasaneeya, her sister Tasanaporn Ketmeteekarun – all of whom are MPs of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party – and 85 others over a 2012 project to build futsal pitches in schools. The project covers schools in 18 provinces in the Northeast and costs Bt4.4 billion.

Substandard work

The pitches were found to be unfit for use due to substandard construction. Investigators also discovered irregularities and bias in the process to select contractors for the project.

The alleged wrongdoing took place while Wirat and Tasaneeya were serving as MPs for the then-ruling Pheu Thai Party, and Tasanaporn was chief executive of the Huai Thalaeng Tambon Administrative Organisation in Nakhon Ratchasima.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) alleged the trio colluded to influence directors of schools in the Northeast to procure futsal pitches.

The NACC accused Wirat of malfeasance in the allocation of state funds for the project. Under the 2007 Constitution, MPs, senators or members of any House committee are forbidden to influence – directly or indirectly – the spending of state budget.

Other defendants, including scores of school directors and teachers, were charged with being accomplices in the allegedly corrupt project.

87 people, including government chief whip, indicted over futsal court scandal

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.

Adverse impact

Wirat is countersuing the NACC for alleged malfeasance and negligence, claiming the agency failed to conduct its investigation carefully and thoroughly.

Wirat, who is also a Palang Pracharath deputy leader, said recently that he would continue working as government chief whip unless the court issued a ruling to suspend him from duties.

The political veteran shrugged off queries about the possible impact of the case on his role in government: “No problem. I will go as far as I can and stop when I have to.”

Wirat has performed well as chief whip, corralling enough votes to pass government motions and support Cabinet members at no-confidence debates despite fractures in the coalition. As such, the government would likely suffer if he is suspended from duties, analysts say. They add that it would be tough to find a replacement who can match his efficiency in the role.

Veteran representative

Wirat was born on May 29, 1958 in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, where he was elected a member of Parliament five times. In the latest 2019 general election, he was elected a party-list MP.

He obtained a bachelor’s in Law and then a master’s in Political Science from Ramkhamhaeng University. In 1986, aged only 28, he was elected as an MP in his home province for the first time.

Wirat served as deputy agriculture minister in Chuan Leekpai’s government from November 1997 to October 1999.

In 2018, he defected from the Pheu Thai Party – whose government was ousted in the 2014 coup – to join the military-backed Palang Pracharath. He took along his wife and two of his three sons, all of whom won Nakhon Ratchasima seats during the 2019 general election.

The eldest son, Atirat, now serves as deputy transport minister while his youngest son, a non-MP, has become Atirat’s secretary.

According to their asset declarations submitted to the NACC, Wirat and Tasaneeya are together worth Bt123.2 million, which includes Bt18 million in bank deposits and 19 plots of land valued at over Bt77 million.

The two MP sons reported more wealth than their parents – Atirat and his wife have combined assets worth Bt176.2 million, while Thawirat and his spouse have over Bt230 million.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk