Bkk governor suspended amid graft probe

Bangkok’s municipal lights costs more than US$1.1 million last new year’s eve. Source: YouTube

The Thai junta has used emergency powers to suspend Bangkok’s governor amid a corruption probe.

Sukhumbhand Paribatra is under investigation over a light display outside the city hall in December.

The two-term governor, a distant relative of the Thai royals, was recently “disowned” by fellow Democrats over the allegations and others, with some MPs calling for his dismissal.

The royalist Democrats are traditional allies of the armed forces, which took power in May 2014 from the Puea Thai Party.

“Although the current investigation is not conclusive yet, it is a high-profile case,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a statement, adding that the governor would be suspended without pay until the probe was completed.

“If the investigation finds no evidence of wrongdoing, the accused will be reinstated,” said Colonel Taksada Sangchan, deputy spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Sukhumbhand denies the allegations and defended the New Year light display, saying it attracted tourists and generated 10 million baht (US$290,000) for traders. The light show cost 39.5 million baht (US$1.14 million).

Since his re-election in 2013, Sukhumbhand has been criticised by the generals for failing to address enduring problems in Bangkok, including congestion and flooding.

An anonymous Bangkok Metropolitan Administration source reportedly told the Thai media that the governor was at Hong Kong airport for a transit stop when the order was issued, while he was on his way to Seoul to attend an event to celebrate the twinning of the two capitals.

The 63-year-old’s suspension was issued through Article 44, a contentious law granting the military government extensive powers to make executive decisions in defence of “national security”.

The junta has used the article to punish teenage motorcycle racers.

Article 44 was used last month to suspend Boonlert Buranupakorn, president of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organisation.

The move was believed to be the result of raids on municipal government offices in Chiang Mai and a company owned by the family of a well-known politician, during which officers allegedly found copies of letters “distorting” the draft charter content.

The Democrat Party, the oldest Thai political party, had been criticised for failing to work with the last democratically elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, during floods in 2011 that swamped much of the country and killed more than 900 people.