Yongyuth Wichaidit: Former Pheu Thai leader out of prison but back in the spotlight
Former deputy prime minister Yongyuth Wichaidit is back in the media spotlight after celebrity lawyer Sittra Biabungkerd exposed a sex scandal he said involved a former deputy premier in Yingluck Shinawatra’s government whose name starts with “Y”.
The lawyer claimed the ex-deputy premier had an affair with a married woman. Photos of the pair sharing intimate moments were later circulated on social media.
Yongyuth, a former leader of the Pheu Thai Party, broke his silence on January 9 to flatly deny having an affair. The previous day, Pheu Thai MP Yuttapong Charasathien had said Yongyuth told him during a phone call that he had not committed adultery because “at the age of 80, he was too old for that”.
Meanwhile, Yongyuth called on Pheu Thai to expel Sittra for making allegations of a scandal within party ranks. The lawyer hit back, saying that Yongyuth was acting suspiciously as he had never mentioned any names. He said that as a Pheu Thai member, he was simply trying to prevent the party from being tarnished.
Yongyuth, who is no longer a Pheu Thai member, served as the party’s leader from December 2008 to October 2012.
Involvement with Alpine scandal
A former interior minister, Yongyuth is remembered for his involvement in a political scandal concerning the Alpine golf course in Pathum Thani province.
The golf course is located on a vast plot that was previously monastic land. The 732-rai (117-hectare) tract of land had been donated to a Buddhist temple in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.
A foundation acting as executor of the estate decided to sell the land to Alpine Real Estate and Alpine Golf and Sports Club. The Council of State, the government’s legal advisory body, ruled that its sale was illegal as the plot was monastic land. The Land Department duly voided the transaction.
However, Yongyuth later revoked the Land Department’s order while serving as acting permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the agency.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) later found Yongyuth at fault for rescinding the department’s order and for failing to abide by the Council of State’s legal interpretation.
In August 2017, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases sentenced Yongyuth to two years in prison for malfeasance and dereliction of duty. The verdict was upheld by the Appeals Court in February 2019 and by the Supreme Court a year later.
The Alpine scandal was also linked to Pheu Thai’s patriarch Thaksin Shinawatra and his political ally Snoh Thienthong, as their family members had benefitted by becoming owners of the contentious land.
From bureaucracy to political arena
Born on July 15, 1942, in Surat Thani province, Yongyuth graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Chulalongkorn University and a master’s in the same field from the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).
Yongyuth began his career in 1966 as a junior Interior Ministry official in his home province. He became a provincial governor for the first time in 1993 in Trang, then director-general of the Department of Land in 2000. Two years later, he rose to the ministry’s top civil position of permanent secretary, serving for eight months until his retirement.
He was appointed leader of the Pheu Thai Party in December 2008, just over a year after it was established. When the party formed a coalition government following its victory in the 2011 general election, Yongyuth became deputy prime minister and interior minister in the administration led by Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck.
According to his son, Yongyuth burst into tears when Yingluck told him he would be handed a ministerial portfolio, and both ended up sobbing.
Subsequently, Yongyuth was often spotted travelling with the prime minister on her domestic and overseas trips. He was viewed by the media as PM Yingluck’s right-hand man.
Yongyuth resigned his two Cabinet seats in late September 2012 and stepped down as Pheu Thai’s leader days later after the NACC indicted him for endorsing the sale of monastic land to Alpine. Just days before his resignation, the Interior Ministry’s civil service subcommittee resolved to dismiss him from the civil service retroactively at the NACC’s recommendation.
The bureaucrat-turned-politician was released from prison after a few months in August 2020 and ordered to serve the rest of his sentence wearing an electronic bracelet at home.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk