Thai Deputy PM to explain luxury watch and ring to anti-graft body

The timepiece worn by Thailand's deputy prime minister and defence minister General Prawit Wongsuwan looked similar to a model by Richard Mille, which would have cost between 4 million baht (S$165,200) and 10 million baht (S$413,000). PHOTO: THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan will submit an explanatory letter to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Tuesday (Dec 12) regarding his controversial possession of a high-end watch and diamond ring, according to a source close to Prawit.

The letter, now at the Defence Ministry office, will be forwarded to the NACC after the long weekend. An unconfirmed local report also claimed that Prawit's ring was an inheritance from his mother while what looks like a multi-million-baht (S$41,530) Richard Mille watch was borrowed from Prawit's businessman friend. The source close to Prawit refused to confirm those claims, adding that the junta's number-two leader would explain the issue only to the NACC. The NACC is now presided over by Pol General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit, who used to serve as a deputy secretary-general to the prime minister attached to Prawit.

While Watcharapong has said that any NACC member with conflicts of interest would not be allowed to investigate the case, he did not clarify whether he would step aside from the investigation. Preecha Suwannathat, a former Anti-Corruption Commission member and one of the NACC's founding figures, said it would be difficult for Prawit to justify the watch's origin if he really had borrowed it from a friend.

"It just sounds too easy," Preecha said. "In that case, he will need to bring a friend to verify his claim. That friend will also need to tell the truth if he doesn't want to be guilty of providing false information to the NACC.

"If that friend turns out to be a civil servant, he will need to be investigated also," he said.

The investigation standards should not be altered as a result, he added, "unless there is some other agenda, especially regarding the NACC president who is now being watched".

Last week, the NACC gave Prawit 30 days to justify his possession of the two extravagant items, which he wore when |taking a group photo with the recently reshuffled Cabinet last Monday.

The photo of the 72-year-old retired general shielding his eyes with his hand, displaying what appeared to be extremely expensive accessories, quickly caught the public's attention amid questions how a lifelong military officer could afford such luxuries. In relation to questions about his "unusual wealth", Prawit also came under fire in 2014 when he entered the Cabinet after he failed to declare any assets worth more than Bt200,000 to the NACC.

Although there still has not been a confirmation on the model of the Richard Mille that Prawit was wearing, possible models are estimated to cost from Bt4 million to Bt10 million. As a result of the controversy, Prawit has again become an Internet sensation, although not in a way that a veteran military official might wish. "Too bad, I am no Prawit so I can afford just this candy ring," said one person wrote on Facebook, showing off a Ring Pop candy on his hand.

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