Rising star in Thai politics faces mounting #MeToo allegations

14 women formally filed complaints against former Democrat Party deputy Prinn Panitchpakdi (centre). PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - An up-and-coming Thai politician is facing allegations he sexually abused more than a dozen women, in what is fast becoming the country's most high-profile #MeToo case.

According to Thai police, 14 women formally filed complaints against former Democrat Party deputy Prinn Panitchpakdi, whose father was deputy prime minister and later director-general of the World Trade Organisation.

The #MeToo movement - which originated in the United States - swept the globe in 2017 but, until now, Thailand had not seen a similar wave of public accusations of sexual assault against a well-known figure.

On Tuesday (April 19), Democrat Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit formally apologised and promised an investigation.

"I feel very sorry and would like to apologise to the public for the incident related to Prinn Panitchapakdi," he said.

Mr Jurin acknowledged he fast-tracked 44-year-old Prinn into a leadership role in Thailand's oldest political party, which was founded with a pro-royal and conservative agenda.

He also vowed to look into the party's vetting process and said that he would resign from two committees examining gender equality and promoting women's rights.

The statement follows increasing calls from women's rights groups for the party to take Prinn's alleged misconduct seriously.

The allegations against Prinn have snowballed since he was accused last week of sexually harassing an 18-year-old student.

Following the woman's statement, he resigned from the Democrat Party.

Since then, more women have come forward to accuse Prinn, with three charges of rape and sexual harassment filed on Saturday.

Lawyer Sittra Biebangkerd, who is representing some of the women, said on Monday he was aware of "14 in total right now", without going into further detail.

Among the accusers is Bangkok Council candidate Anna Vidhyaphum, who alleges that Mr Prinn raped her in 2021.

Prinn has denied all of the allegations, adding he would contest the accusations in court.

He has been released from custody on a US$20,755 (S$28,335.66) bail and is banned from travelling abroad.

Prinn, a former investment banker, was seen as a rising political star after being appointed the Democrat Party's deputy leader in 2019, less than three years after joining it.

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