6,000 'influential' Thais put on junta's graft list

BANGKOK • Thailand's military junta ordered a fresh sweep of 6,000 corrupt "influential people" yesterday, the latest move by a regime that has touted a tough anti-graft stance, but with limited success.

The kingdom is known for its nexus of graft-tainted officials, underground mafia and shady patronage networks, something the ruling junta has vowed to tackle, even though the military itself has long been tarred by such allegations.

Intelligence officers have now compiled a list of some 6,000 "influential people", a Thai phrase used to describe mafia bosses and other powerful figures dealing in illegal trades.

The blacklisted, who include government and security officials, are suspected of aiding a variety of crime syndicates, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters yesterday, without elaborating on the nature of the crimes.

"There are 6,000 people in these networks; some are government officials," he said, adding that the crackdown would be wrapped up in the next two months.

The generals who grabbed power in a 2014 coup have sought to burnish a reputation as crime- busters, trumpeting periodic - and often short-lived - crackdowns on everything from gambling rings to drink driving.

The regime has also suppressed free speech, detained scores of political dissidents and sidelined allies of the government it toppled. But General Prawit stressed that the latest clampdown on "influence" was aimed at criminals, not critics. "The crackdown is not concentrated on a particular group of politicians," he said.

Many in Thailand's top echelons of power are tainted by some history of graft. As relations sour and political winds shift, sudden purges can see senior figures fall from grace with a swiftness often baffling to observers.

Dr Paul Chambers, a Thailand-based academic and expert on the military, said the junta's latest purge suggests a growing "siege mentality" as the administration seeks to rationalise its continued grip on power two years after the coup.

"The economy is tanking, there are droughts across the north-east, there are so many difficulties, so they are perceiving enemies on all sides," he said.

The junta assumed control of the country amid anti-government protests in May 2014, vowing to end 10 years of political turmoil. But critics say the regime is more concerned with maintaining the military elite's political influence in the kingdom.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline '6,000 'influential' Thais put on junta's graft list'. Print Edition | Subscribe