In August 2020, two Thai residents in the United States filed complaints with the local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) against the former Director and Deputy Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) New York office over using stolen identity documents to falsely claim reimbursements.
The TAT main office in Bangkok.
Phitcha-on (formerly Jarinya) Kiatlaphanachai, the former Director, and Monthira Prakhongphan, Deputy Director, were accused by Suteera Nagavajara, ICF research director in Washington D.C. and also co-founder of the Somapa Thai Dance Company, and by Pisara Lumpukdee, a human resource consultant and former employee of TAT New York.
In Suteera's case, a copy of her driving license was submitted as documentation for payment by the TAT in March 2019 as she was hired to perform a dance.
She later learned that this copy was used by Phitcha-on to claim reimbursement of 4,000 USD for the cost of car rental and driver service in Massachusetts in August 2019. Suteera has documents to prove she was in Thailand at the time.
Pisara submitted a copy of her Green Card to support a job application at the TAT. This was later used by Monthira to claim reimbursement of the cost of ‘event organising’ in Boston in February 2019, also when Pisara was in Thailand.
Suteera has filed complaints with the TAT headquarters in Bangkok and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) but received no formal investigation result from them.
On 2 September, Prachatai sent a letter of inquiry to the TAT Governor, asking for an update on Suteera’s petition, but received no response despite several follow-up attempts.
Prachatai then contacted the NACC and was told that the issue has been with the Office of Investigation into State-owned Enterprise Corruption for over a year and was still undergoing an ‘information verification’. As far as the Office knows, the TAT has also been investigating the issue.
According to NACC procedure, an allegation will be passed onto an investigation committee and the NACC committee if it is found credible. If found guilty, the two will be subjected to legal and disciplinary punishments.
Suteera and Pisara said they do not want to abandon the case as it requires awareness and a sense of good citizenship to deter wrongdoing. In a developed country like the US and elsewhere, identity theft is a serious crime that can cause immeasurable loss.
“I never thought that anything like this would happen. I acted [performing Thai dances] willingly. I wanted to help the nation. In coming to perform, I wanted to help spread Thai culture in America. I felt very good when the embassy or the TAT contacted me to perform dances. ... This is the first time [I suffered identity theft]. I was stunned.
“I’m not the one who lost money. The one who lost money is the Thai government. I want to raise more awareness over corruption in Thailand. Corruption always happens because Thai people think that everyone does it. I think that this is not normal and should not be accepted as a normal thing to do.
“No matter how small the issue is, if we make people realize that Thai government organizations do this to people, it may give Thai people more awareness so that they do not accept corruption as a normal thing to do,” said Suteera.
Corruption scandals have hit the news from time to time, causing various forms of public dissent. False reimbursement claims and procurement price-fixing are among the well-known methods.
For example, in 2013, Sgt Narongchai Intharakavi of the Army Ordnance Materiel Rebuild Centre found his name and signature were being repeatedly used for reimbursement of allowances and project expenses. After he decided to expose his superiors, he was bullied and punished.
In July 2020, a ‘Watchdog Operation’ Facebook page reported that the Lampang Provincial Administration spent 11,520,000 baht to build two royal arches, 30 metres and 40 metres wide, on Highway 1039. However, the page found many companies charged 5,671,000 baht for building such arches, raising the question of where the remaining 5.8 million baht went