Graft busters given new teeth to deal with runaway politicians

The Criminal Procedure Code amendments which were overwhelming approved by the National Legislative Assembly this week marks an important point in bringing ่political office holders facing corruption charges to justice. 

One key element of this legislation which is yet to be promulgated pending a final review by the Constitution Drafting Committee and the National Anti-Corruption Commission is the transitional provision which will make this law retroactively enforceable as well to deal with fugitives who fled the country to escape the law and hope to return home a free man after the expiration of the statute of limitations of their corruption cases.

Somchai Sawaengkarn, a member of the NLA and scrutiny panel, said that in case a holder of political office escaped after a corruption charge was filed against him or her in the Supreme Court’s criminal division for police officer holders, the statute of limitation of the case will automatically stop as of the date of his escape.

Which means that even if the 20-year statute of limitations of a corruption case against a runaway politician has expired, he or she will still be tried by the court upon his/her return home because the statute of limitations has already stopped on the date of his/her escape.

NLA member Somchai Sawaengkarn

“These amendments will make the justice process more acceptable as the officials concerned must try to bring the defendants to the court. And if the defendant does not show up, he will have to run for the rest of his life,” said Mr Somchai.

The transitional provision will close the big loophole in the Criminal Procedure Code which has rendered the fight against corruption among politicians ineffective after the alleged wrongdoers ran away from the country and wait for the day they can return a free man after the statute of limitations of their cases has expired.

Political observers noted that this provision or Section 67 of the amendments bill will enable the state to revive some of the corruption cases against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra which are left in the limbo because the defendant has run away from the country.

Among the cases which are expected to be revived against the former prime minister are the 4-billion baht Thai Exim Bank’s loan for the Myanmar government; the amendments of telecom concession between the government and Shin Corp to change concession fees to revenue tax allegedly for the benefit of the telecom company; and the false declaration of assets by Thaksin.

Co-defendants in some of these cases such as the Exim Bank and three-digit lottery controversy have already been convicted, but not Thaksin.

Other key Sections of the Criminal Procedure Code amendments bill are Sections 26 and 27.

Section 26 stipulates that the court can accept a case for consideration even if a suspect is not brought before the court or the suspect deliberately drags his feet for no good reason. However, this could be done only after an arrest warrant has already been issued against the suspect.

Section 27 empowers the court to proceed with a case behind the back of a defendant after a warrant was issued for his/her arrest and if the defendant cannot be brought before the court within three months.

Anyway, the defendant is entitled to appoint a lawyer in his defence although he is not around.

If the defendant is convicted without his presence before the court, he is entitled to ask for a retrial within one year of his conviction if he has new evidences on the condition that he must be present in court.  —Reporting by Yanee Waikru, Thai PBS