Banned Thai politician defends criticism of vaccine plan

BANGKOK • A banned Thai opposition politician, who is facing a criminal complaint of defaming the monarchy, yesterday defended his criticism of the government's coronavirus vaccine strategy that relies on a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit this week accused the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of mishandling the vaccine campaign, saying it was too reliant on Siam Bioscience.

The Thai company is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages tens of billions of dollars in investment under the King's personal control.

The government has ordered 61 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, as well as two million doses of a vaccine made by China's Sinovac Biotech.

Thanathorn had alleged the AstraZeneca deal lacked transparency and Siam Bioscience was given an unfair advantage.

He said the government, by relying mostly on AstraZeneca instead of negotiating multiple deals, has slowed the roll-out of vaccines for Thais to June. Both AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience declined to comment on the allegations.

The government defended its policy and filed a criminal complaint against Thanathorn for his criticism, accusing him of royal insult under Article 112 of the criminal code that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

"The deals were not negotiated independently of each other. There was no selection process or comparison, so questions must be raised," Thanathorn told a news conference, during which he said the Prime Minister was using Article 112 to silence him.

Government spokesman Ratchada Dhanadirek has denied that the prosecution was politically motivated.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Banned Thai politician defends criticism of vaccine plan'. Subscribe