THAILAND - The Samut Prakan provincial court yesterday sentenced a rice businessman reportedly close to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra to six years in jail and fined him Bt12,000 (S$500) after finding him guilty of embezzlement and fraud for his failure to deliver a Bt200 million (S$7.7 million) broken-rice shipment to Iran.
The defendant, 50-year-old Apichat Chansakulporn, alias Sia Pieng, the managing director of the now-bankrupt President Agri Co, was prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General on embezzlement charges.
The court was told the fraud took place when his company failed to deliver 20,000 tonnes of 5-per-cent broken rice to Iran in 2007.
President Agri Trading was Thailand's leading rice exporter during 2003-04, when Wattana Muangsuk was a minister of Commerce during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. Apichat reportedly was close to Wattana and Thaksin.
During Watta-na's stint as commerce minister, President Agri won a bid for 1.79 million tonnes of rice from the government's stocks for export to Indonesia. It was one of the biggest quantities sold by the Commerce Ministry to a private rice exporter. Later, President Agri Trading went bankrupt in 2010.
Apichat was allegedly associated with Siam Indica, a company that secured some rice deals from the Yingluck Shinawatra government as well. The court said the defendant had violated the contract signed with the Commerce Ministry and embezzled the rice, which his company was contracted to deliver to Iran.
Samut Prakan provincial court chief justice Awirut Chanchai-kittikorn said that as the managing director of President Agri Co, Apichat had sole authority in carrying out the company's business transactions. His defence that he had no intention to commit the offences carried no weight.
Awirut said Foreign Trade Department director-general, Apiradee Tantraporn had also testified that Apichat had contracted with the department to "rebuild" the rice.
The Commerce Ministry had entered into a government-to-government contract to sell 5 per cent broken rice to Iran. Apichat's company was allowed to rebuild 10 per cent [add a higher grade] of the broken rice to the 5 per cent broken rice being shipped to Iran.
In the rice industry, exporters employed to rebuild rice will earn margins from the price difference between the two grades of rice.
Sia Pieng twice failed to rebuild and ship the rice at the port, which led to the Thai government being fined and its deposits confiscated by Iran. The embezzlement and fraud offences carry three years imprisonment each. The court also ordered Apichat to deliver the rice to the damaged party. Sia Pieng denied the charges and deposited Bt2 million (S$80,000) in assets to be granted bail. He has appealed against his sentence.
Sia Pieng was earlier revealed by former Democrat MP Warong Dechgitvigrom as the key man behind the rice-pledging scheme, who had travelled to China several times with Thaksin.
The Thailand Development Research Institute has exposed corruption in the rice-pledging scheme, with estimated losses in the past two years exceeding Bt450 billion (S$17.3 billion).