Criminal charge against Thanathorn to be dropped

A spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General said yesterday (22 April) that a criminal charge against Thanathorn Juangrungruangkit will be dropped. The former leader of the dissolved Future Forward Party was accused of running in the 2019 general election despite already knowing that he held shares in the V-luck Media company in violation of electoral law.

Had he been prosecuted and found guilty, he faced a jail term of 1-10 years and a fine of 20,000-200,000 baht under the Organic Law on the Election of MPs. However, after the decision was postponed from 19 to 22 April, the spokesperson said that the official decision will be delayed again until 25 May.

“Whenever the case has final opinion, the spokesperson team will be ready to announce the details. We insist that the opinion in this case does not contradict the Constitutional Court verdict”, said spokesperson Itthiporn Kaewthip

In 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP, agreeing with the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)’s claim that he held shares in a media company at the time when he filed as a candidate for the 2019 general election. Among many reasons for disqualification, the current Constitution says that a media company shareholder cannot run in a general election.

Thanathorn denied the allegation saying that he had transferred the shares to his mother a month before becoming a candidate. He also said that the V-luck Media company was no longer active at the time of election campaign in 2019.

64 other MPs faced similar charges, but only Move Forward MP Tanwarin Sukkhapisit was disqualified in a 28 October 2020 verdict by the Constitutional Court.  In the other 63 cases, from both government and opposition parties, the Court ruled that the companies in which the MPs held shares did not produce news or other media-related content, even though ‘media’ was included in the list of company activities when they were registered.

The Election Commission of Thailand filed a separate criminal charges with police against Thanathorn in March last year. The difference between the Constitutional Court’s consideration and a criminal prosecution is in that a criminal case the prosecution needs to prove that Thanathorn knew that he held shares in the media company before running in the election.

Before the update from the spokesperson yesterday (22 April), Truth Today, a right-wing media outlet, has been among the first to report claims about the acquittal on 16 April. Thanathorn’s lawyer said at the time that he did not know about the prosecution’s decision and was waiting for the official decision on 22 April.

Truth Today was also among the first to point out that even if the Office of the Attorney General decided not to file charges against Thanathorn, the Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police could still file an appeal for the Attoney General to make a final decision. This information spread among right-wing supporters via social media platforms.

Krissadang Nuttajaras, Thanathorn’s lawyer, said he understood that the Office of the Attorney General may be waiting for the opinion of the police chief before releasing its announcement. The law does not say how long the police chief can take over his reply. However, he suspects that there could be another delay to the process.

“If on 25 May the Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police still has not sent an opinion in reply, it is possible that the public prosecutors may again postpone the ruling in the case,” said Krissadang. 

Even if Thanathorn is acquitted on this charge, his legal struggles continue. Among many cases, he was charged under the lèse majesté law (Section 112) for speaking in January 2021 about “the royal vaccine” which has the support of the government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.  

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