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Cablegate: Thailand: Replacement of Rtg Auditor-General

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 003381

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV. HQ USPACOM FOR FPA HUSO.

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND: REPLACEMENT OF RTG AUDITOR-GENERAL
SPARKS CONTROVERSY


1. (SBU) Summary: A controversy over the status of
Auditor-General Khunying Charuwan Methanaka is receiving wide
attention in Thailand. On May 12, citing a Constitutional
Court decision voiding her original appointment, the Senate
named former Finance Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary
Wisut Montriwat to replace Charuwan after she has been in the
job since November 2001. Her supporters are crying foul,
accusing the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government of removing an
effective anti-corruption investigator who has become a thorn
in its side. Her supporters claim that, after a series of
investigations that targeted Thaksin-appointed senior
officials, she now has Transport Minister Suriya
Jungrungruenkit in her sights for suspected involvement with
fraud connected to the new airport project. Charuwan's
removal appears to be legal, even if it is
politically-motivated. This controversy has reopened debate
about the larger questions of government influence on key
appointments and on the constitutionally-mandated
independence of the Senate and other offices. End Summary.


ACTIVIST AUDITOR-GENERAL

2. (SBU) Charuwan was an active, senior career auditor in
the Auditor-General's Office when she was nominated by the
Senate Auditor General Commission and subsequently selected
by the Senate to the top post in November 2001. Her name was
second on a list of three candidates but she received the nod
from the Senate at that time, all of whose members are still
holding seats.

3. (SBU) As head of the constitutionally-mandated
independent Auditor-General's office, Charuwan has proved to
be a strong anti-graft investigator, looking into many cases
alleging government fraud and malfeasance under the Thaksin
administration. The Palace awarded her the royal honorific
of "khunying," and "promoted" her to a higher order, because
of her corruption-busting performance. Charuwan investigated
projects under the Transport Ministry (the new airport and
various highway projects) and the Agriculture Ministry
(questionable rice and rubber sales). In 2003, she
reportedly was prepared to investigate allegations of fraud
by senior Ministry of Health officials administering
Thaksin's vaunted 30 baht health care program.

4. (SBU) In June 2003, a group of senators led by Buriram
Senator Police Colonel Suraphong Phai-nuan raised questions
over the selection procedure for Charuwan, pointing out that
since she had been ranked second among the three nominees for
the post, her appointment was technically illegal because it
did not follow guidelines that only the top nominee should be
selected. These Senators petitioned the Constitutional Court
to rule on Charuwan's appointment, and the Court subsequently
ruled that Charuwan's appointment was unconstitutional and
she was thus disqualified for the post. Though a number of
senators sent a letter to the Court supporting Charuwan, the
Court re-affirmed its ruling in February, 2005. On May 12,
amidst accusations by her supporters in the public that the
Thaksin administration was pushing out a strong
anti-corruption official in favor of a more malleable figure,
the Senate selected former Finance Ministry Deputy Permanent
Secretary Wisut Montriwat to replace Charuwan. Critics of

SIPDIS
the appointment of Wisut maintain that because Charuwan has
not been formally removed by royal fiat, a replacement cannot
be named and submitted to the King. For her part, Charuwan
is still occupying her office space, but has packed her bags.


NGOS POINT ACCUSE THAI RAK THAI GOVERNMENT OF POLITICAL
MOTIVATION IN REMOVAL

5. (U) The prospective replacement of Charuwan has stirred
up a political storm. The NGO Campaign for Popular Democracy
(CPD) on May 12 accused the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Government of
engineering her exit in order to rid itself of a troublesome
official who was revealing embarrassing instances of
corruption. CDP Secretary-General Suriyasai Katasila charged
that a majority of senators -- who are supposed to be
non-partisan -- had been instructed by the administration to
vote for Wisut. According to Suriyasai, during her term as
Auditor-General, Charuwan had discovered and was taking
action on several instances of corrupt practices involving
TRT ministers, including the prominent airport contract fraud
allegations now plaguing Transport Minister Suriya
Jungrungruenkit. To stop Charuwan from breathing down
Suriya,s neck and despite the legal uncertainty over
Charuwan's status, Suriyasai alleged, the Senate,s selection
of Wisut as new Auditor-General had been hastily arranged.


6. (U) Chairman of the NGO Confederation for Democracy,
Weng Tojirakan, has also charged that the dispute over the
Auditor-General post stems from fear among some Thai
politicians that Charuwan was getting too close to them in
her investigations. According to Weng, after her extended
tenure as Auditor-General, Charuwan was close to making major
corruption cases against other members of Thaksin's
government. Sensing trouble, Weng maintained, these
politicians moved to get her out. Weng bemoaned what he
considered undue administration influence over the nominally
independent Senate, which selected a replacement for Charuwan
without plausible reasons, and the Constitutional Court,
which passed an unclear ruling on her case. Weng also cited
Prime Minister Thaksin,s reluctance to appoint Charuwan to
the fact-finding committee on the CTX explosive device
detection machine fraud matter, in Weng's view, out of fear
that Charuwan would dig up embarrassing facts.
LEGAL ARGUMENTS BY A SUPPORTER

7. (U) One of Charuwan's supporters, former Constitution
Drafting Assembly (CDA) member Khanin Boonsuwan, on May 18
characterized the Senate,s appointment of Wisut as a "legal
mistake." Khanin argued that Charuwan still retains her
status as Auditor-General, since the Constitution provides
that the removal from office of the Auditor-General shall be
in accordance with the organic law on state audit, and this
law does not stipulate that a ruling made by the
Constitutional Court (CC) as a valid reason for the
Auditor-General,s removal. Khanin added that the CC,s
ruling, which declared the unconstitutionality of the
Senate,s earlier selection of Charuwan as the
Auditor-General, did not specifically mention that she be
removed from the office. Therefore, Khanin concluded, the
royal appointment of Charuwan as the Auditor-General was
still in effect, and that should render the selection of
Wisut invalid. He further argued that this also makes it
inappropriate for the President of the Senate to present
Wisut to the King as new Auditor-General.

8. (SBU) Comment: It does appear that Charuwan's selection
in 2001 did not follow the Constitutionally-stipulated
procedures, a fact that was known and overlooked by the
Senate at the time of her appointment. A royal fiat is not
now required to remove her. She had a good reputation before
becoming Auditor-General but her real problem is that she has
proved to be a much tougher investigator than anticipated.
Her removal now clearly is politically-motivated but also is
achievable legally, despite the arguments of Khanin.
Speculation over what Charuwan knows about government
corruption and what she planned to do is particularly topical
because of current widespread allegations of fraud in the
awarding of contracts for the new airport. Her imminent
removal has renewed the debate about the degree of influence
exercised by the government over the nominally independent
Senate and Constitutional Court. Throughout the Thaksin
years the opposition has claimed that these and other
constitutionally-mandated watchdog bodies have been packed
and unduly influenced by the ruling party and essentially
been turned into rubber stamps. The manner in which Charuwan
is being replaced as Auditor-General has fed these suspicions
among Thaksin's critics and more widely in the Thai public.
End Comment.
ARVIZU

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