Thailand official quits over painting theft

BANGKOK • A Thai official caught on camera drunkenly stealing paintings from a Japanese hotel said yesterday that he will resign, after causing intense diplomatic embarrassment for Bangkok.

News of the sticky-fingered bureaucrat's failed heist first emerged last week when Japanese media reported that the official had been arrested trying to lift three paintings from a hotel in Kyoto.

Hotel staff noticed the paintings - worth around US$125 (S$180) - were missing, checked the building's closed-circuit television and swiftly identified the culprit, Mr Suphat Saguandeekul, a 60-year-old official with Thailand's Commerce Ministry.

Mr Suphat, deputy director of the Department of Intellectual Property tasked with trying to roll back Thailand's reputation as a counterfeit hub, was promptly arrested and charged with theft.

"After I finished my mission in Japan, I met with some university friends. We were drunk and I unconsciously and unintentionally committed an inappropriate act," Mr Suphat said in his resignation letter.

Mr Suphat, who had extended his stay in Japan after a government trip to Osaka, added that he was "profoundly sorry" in the letter sent to media.

In the wake of his arrest last week, Thai diplomats scrambled to secure Mr Suphat's release, which happened after he admitted guilt and compensated the hotel.

On his return home, the Commerce Ministry initially announced he would be "transferred" to a new role pending an investigation.

That decision sparked public anger in a country where government officials are rarely sacked for wrongdoing and, instead, quietly moved to different posts.

Graft is endemic in Thailand, where civil servants have a poor reputation for taking bribes to top up their income.

Thailand's ruling generals partly justified their 2014 coup as a bid to end corruption.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Thailand official quits over painting theft'. Print Edition | Subscribe