Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Loopholes in law cloud the Thaksin passport saga

The Democrat Party's revelation that Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul reissued an ordinary passport to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in October has fortified critics' belief in this being a single-agenda government.
Thaksin: Debate over documentation
Mr Surapong initially prevaricated when he was asked to confirm the news. Later he admitted he ordered Foreign Ministry officials to reissue the passport several weeks earlier.
Technically, no one can be accused of doing anything wrong since politicians in the big two parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, used a bus-sized loophole in ministry regulations to take their respective courses of action _ withdrawal then reissue of the passport.
Pulling strings: Thaksin behind PM's Burma trip
In 2008, a source said, the Foreign Ministry wrote to the police and the Supreme Court for advice on what to do with Thaksin's passport after he was found guilty of corruption in the Ratchadaphisek land purchase deal and was given a two-year jail sentence in absentia.
But their response merely detailed the facts about the case. They gave no suggestion as to what the ministry should do about the passport, the source said.
Kasit Piromya, who was then foreign minister under the Abhisit administration, cited ministry regulation 23(7) to revoke Thaksin's passport. The regulation empowers the ministry to recall a passport from any holder if that person causes damage to the country or other countries.
The source said Mr Kasit's decision was based purely on that regulation, not regulation 21(3) which prohibits a passport being issued to a person wanted under an arrest warrant from the Criminal Court.
"The ministry cannot, by itself, deny a passport for a person who is on the blacklist or being wanted on an arrest warrant. Relevant agencies are needed to formally notify the Foreign Ministry if they want it to revoke a passport of someone to prevent that person from travelling overseas," the source explained.
Another source said ministry officials did not suggest Mr Surapong return the passport to Thaksin.
After Thaksin made his request for the return of his ordinary passport to the Thai Embassy in Abu Dhabi on Oct 25, the Consular Department only informed Mr Surapong of the cause of the passport revocation.
"By using the same regulation 23(7) that was used to revoke Thaksin's passport, Mr Surapong justified his action that he did not see Thaksin had caused damage to the country. So he ordered Mr Kasit's order to be revoked," the source said.
Now that the passport has been returned, the question arises as to who is accountable for the whole debacle, especially if malpractice can be proved in court.
It seems the ministry officials are protected since it was Mr Surapong who signed the order for the paper to be returned to Thaksin.
The minister even assured the ministry staff the government would take full responsibility for the move if it was brought up in public.
State civil servants have a duty to comply with government orders, even though "this issue is always going to be a political issue", the source said.
To keep the issue alive, Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut yesterday accused Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin 's legal adviser, of distorting the law in favour of his boss.
Mr Chavanond said the Democrat-led coalition government had not revoked the passports of two other high-profile politicians who have fled the country after being found guilty of criminal offences _ Somchai Khunploem and Vatana Asavahame _ as neither had tried to incite people in other countries to move against Thailand.
Mr Noppadon had earlier pointed out that the previous government had not cancelled their passports even though they were convicted of more serious offences.
Mr Chavanond, a former secretary to Mr Kasit, defended the former minister's order to revoke Thaksin's passport under regulation 23(7).
He said the regulation empowers the Foreign Ministry to cancel a passport if the person travels around and causes damage to Thailand.