BANGKOK • The former head of Thailand's tourism department has been given a 50-year jail sentence for accepting US$1.8 million (S$2.5 million) in kickbacks from an American couple lobbying for rights to host a Bangkok film festival.
Juthamas Siriwan, 69, accepted the bribes while she was tourism chief in the early 2000s, according to the verdict delivered on Wednesday at a new Bangkok court handling corruption cases.
Judges also sentenced her daughter, Jittisopha, to 44 years' jail for helping to hide the cash in overseas bank accounts, and ordered the Thai authorities to seize the money. "They colluded to avoid free competition in favour of Gerald Green and Patricia Green," the court verdict said, referring to the Los Angeles-based couple behind the bribery.
The Greens have served time in United States jails for running the sophisticated graft scheme, which saw them funnel money to Juthamas over five years to secure rights to run Bangkok's yearly International Film Festival.
The contracts enabled the couple to generate over US$13.5 million in revenue, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation statement about the probe.
Juthamas had denied that she abused her power as Tourism Authority of Thailand governor and argued that she was not involved in any procurement for the film festival. Jittisopha had argued that the US$1.8 million found in her overseas bank accounts was from her own business with the Greens and that the money had nothing to do with her mother.
Their lawyer Tanakorn Waekwari sought their temporary release, offering bail of 1 million baht (S$40,500) each. They are expected to appeal against Wednesday's court verdict.
Last Friday, the National Anti- Corruption Commission (NACC) said it would seize an estimated 65 million baht in overseas assets belonging to Juthamas and her daughter. The former governor had earlier faced an NACC investigation for being "unusually rich" after leaving public office.
Official graft is endemic in Thailand and bribery is common for everything ranging from avoiding police fines to securing school places.
The military junta that came to power in a 2014 coup has vowed to root out corruption, which has often served as a catalyst for political unrest. But critics accuse the junta's probes of political bias and say impunity continues in a country where the judicial system is easily bent by cash and connections.
The NACC announced this month that it was probing former senior government officials and employees of Thailand's flagship airline, Thai Airways, over allegations that they took huge bribes from Rolls-Royce more than a decade ago. The probe was launched after Britain's Serious Fraud Office announced revelations from its own probe into the engine-maker.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK