Kittiratt faces probe over rice deal

Kittiratt faces probe over rice deal

Role in illegal bid for supplier questioned

Former commerce minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong
Former commerce minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong

Former commerce minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong is facing a graft probe following an accusation that he failed to act on an alleged irregularity in the selection of a local supplier for rice exported to Indonesia in 2011.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Tuesday announced it would form a sub-panel to look into the allegation against Mr Kittiratt who served as deputy prime minister and commerce minister under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

Mr Kittiratt is accused of malfeasance for his failure to order an investigation into the unlawful selection of Siam Indica Co by the Public Warehouse Organisation (PWO) to supply rice to Indonesia’s food procurement agency Bulog.

On Aug 18, 2011, Bulog signed a contract to buy 300,000 tonnes of rice priced at US$559 per tonne from Thailand.

The PWO claimed it had issued an announcement calling for bids to find a rice supplier. However, it was alleged that no announcement was made public in breach of the PWO’s own regulations.

On Dec 14, 2011, Siam Indica and another firm, Nakhon Sawan Kha Kao, submitted bids. An employee of Siam Indica submitted the bids for both companies.

It turned out Nakhon Sawan Kha Kao did not meet the criteria, leaving Siam Indica the only company in contention.

Surasak Sriprapa, the PWO’s acting president, eventually approved Siam Indica as the supplier. The firm was contracted to supply 100,000 tonnes of rice at US$559 per tonne although a clause was inserted into the contract allowing Siam Indica to supply a further 200,000 tonnes of rice to Bulog, for which no bid was held.

According to the NACC, the PWO’s vice president, Pitheera Tangpossawat, and assistant president, Somsak Wongwatthanasan, also allegedly colluded to ensure Siam Indica clinched the rice export deal uncontested.

The alleged malpractice sidestepped a fair tender offer which constituted an abuse of position for illegal and vested gain causing damages to the PWO.

NACC deputy secretary-general, Niwatchai Kasemmongkol, said that after Siam Indica was chosen as the supplier, representatives of a rice exporter association met Mr Kittiratt at Government House and warned him the selection deal was unlawful.

According to the NACC, Mr Kittiratt was aware Siam Indica had been chosen to supply the rice. However, the commerce minister did nothing to stop or resolve the issue.

Instead, he said the deal would not be rescinded as it had been conducted properly. He even added that Bulog had picked Siam Indica to supply the rice.

However, the NACC said Bulog had done no such thing and had never even suggested that a particular company be chosen to supply the rice.

After reviewing the case, the NACC decided there were grounds to believe Mr Kittiratt violated the Criminal Code and Section 123/1 of the NACC Act. The next step would be for the sub-panel to gather evidence and witnesses.

Siam Indica Co, at one time operated by Apichart Chansakulporn, also stands accused of laundering money through the alleged bogus sale of rice to China in a government-to-government agreement from 2011 to 2012.

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