BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thirty-eight former Cabinet members from the previous governments of Abhisit Vejjajiva and Yingluck Shinawatra have come under the microscope over their tax records, a media inquiry has found.
They are being targeted in a move by the Office of the Auditor-General to have the Revenue Department determine whether the politicians had paid proper taxes on their incomes while in office.
The focus was on former political office-holders with earnings exceeding 5 million baht (S$203,000), according to Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas. But he did not identify the politicians.
An inquiry by the Kom Chad Luek Online team, which is part of the Nation Multimedia Group, revealed that 38 former Cabinet members - 19 from each government - met the profile hinted at by the Auditor-General.
Mr Pisit said that those politicians were not "unusually wealthy" - a euphemism that suggests corruption - but the authorities simply were interested as to whether the taxes they had paid correlated with their earnings exceeding 5 million baht.
According to the Auditor-General, more than 60 politicians were initially targeted in an investigation by his office and that they were affiliated with political parties other than Pheu Thai and Democrats - the country's two largest.
"The Office of the Auditor-General is not going after any person in particular, as has been alleged. We are scrutinising everyone," Mr Pisit said.
The law requires political office-holders to submit reports on their assets and debts to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on three occasions - after assuming office, after leaving office, and a year after leaving office.
The research by Kom Chad Luek Online discovered that 19 members of the Abhisit government, serving between December 2008 and August 2011, earned more than 5 million baht while in office.
Eleven of them came from then ruling Democrat Party, seven from other coalition partners - five Bhum Jai Thai Party politicians, and one each from Puea Pandin and Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana parties - as well as a non-politician with no political affiliation.
General Prawit Wongsuwan, who served as defence minister in Mr Abhisit's government, was the Cabinet member with no political affiliation. He is now the defence minister and deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs in the current post-coup government.
The inquiry also found that 19 members of the Yingluck government, serving from August 2011 to May 2014, earned more than 5 million baht. Of those government ministers, 15 came from the coalition leader Pheu Thai Party, two from ally Palang Chon Party, and one each from the smaller Chart Thai Pattana and Chart Pattana parties.
Of the 38 ex-Cabinet members, only four reported assets of less than 10 million baht - former social development and human security minister Issara Somchai and former culture minister Nipit Intarasombat of the Democrat-led government, and former deputy agriculture minister Yuttapong Charasathien and former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyaphirom of the Pheu Thai-led administration. The 34 others reported having wealth ranging from 23 million baht to 2.9 billion baht.
Former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij was the wealthiest Cabinet member in Mr Abhisit's government, with 807.6 million baht in reported assets, followed by former deputy agriculture minister Chartchai Pukkayaporn (518 million baht), and former science minister Kalaya Sophonpanich (423 million baht). Mr Nipit, a Democrat politician, reported the least assets among members of the Abhisit Cabinet, at 3.1 million baht.
Among the members of Ms Yingluck's Cabinet, former deputy prime minister Phongthep Thepkanjana was the wealthiest, with 2.9 billion baht in reported assets, followed by the former prime minister herself (541 million baht), and former defence minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha (312 million baht). Boonsong, a key Pheu Thai figure, was the "poorest" among them, with 4.4 million baht in reported assets.