Pareena Kraikupt, MP for Ratchaburi in the ruling Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) has been found guilty of serious ethics violation, resulting in a life-long ban from political positions at any level and loss of the right to vote for 10 years, punishments some see as overkill.
The verdict was given on 7 April, approximately one year after the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) asked the Court to rule on alleged illegal land use and ownership in Chom Bueng District, Ratchaburi Province 18 years ago by Pareena and her father, Thawee.
The two claimed ownership of about 655 rai of land (104.8 hectares) where they set up two chicken cooperatives. Based on a Royal Forest Department investigation, the NACC ruled in February 2021 that the land was in a conservation forest area. Pareena was elected while still using the land, until she returned it to the authorities in 2019.
The Kraikupt family testified to a working group from the Royal Forest Department that they had used the land since 1946, well before the land was re-zoned in 1993 and that their land ownership was legitimate for more than 10 years.
The NACC found that the offence amounted to a conflict of personal and public interests as defined in the organic law on corruption among independent organisation officials; Section 235 of the Constitution extended the application of this law to political office holders.
As the NACC is mandated to submit their ruling to the Supreme Court as the final arbiter, the Court ordered Pareena to be stripped of her MP status, with effect from on 25 March 2021, the date she was suspended from all parliamentary activities while awaiting trial, disqualified from voting for 10 years, and banned from any political position, nationally and locally, for the rest of her life.
Pareena, who sent her lawyer to hear the verdict in her place, told Thairath in a stunned voice that she still had not thought about what to do next and that she was in the middle of “learning to cope with it”. She also said that she is now like an unemployed person as she had no parliament job to go to and no chickens to feed.
According to BBC Thai, Thiwa Karnkrasang, Pareena’s lawyer, said after the hearing that Pareena did not intentionally encroach on the conservation area as the land was inherited from her father. The land plots were categorised under ‘agricultural reform land’, plots allocated to landless farmers, a criterion which the Court decided Pareena did not meet.
One among many political casualties
Pareena, elected 4 times as MP, is the daughter of Thawee Kraikupt, also a renowned MP for Ratchaburi who was elected 7 times. She started her political career in 2005 with the Thai Rak Thai Party before moving to many other parties across the political spectrum: Chart Thai Party in 2007, Chart Thai Pattana in 2011 and Pheu Thai Party in 2014.
After the election in February 2014 was ruled null and void, and was followed by the May 22 coup, she moved to the Palang Pracharat Party to run in the last election in 2019.
On 29 October 2019, not long into her career as a ruling party MP, she told the media that people in Chom Bueng had asked her to revoke the ownership of 500 out of 3,000 rai claimed by Somporn Juangroongruangkit, the mother of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The people claimed that the land was meant to be allocated for community use.
A map showing the location of the farm the Forest Department said is owned by Pareena
This announcement was made after the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) founded in 2018 and led by Thanathorn. The Constitution Court ruled that a loan by Thanathorn to the party violated the Organic Law on Political Parties which limited one person’s donation to a political party to 10 million baht.
Thanathorn and the FFP executive board had their MP status revoked and were banned from political positions for 10 years.
The ruling was questioned by the public and FFP supporters. It was argued that the ruling was political, and comparisons were drawn between the FFP’s fate and the impunity enjoyed by the PPRP who held a fundraising banquet where 40 juristic entities and 84 individuals donated about 650 million baht. It was claimed that some donations came from civil servants or state agencies, which is illegal, and that some of the companies making donations were operating at a loss, making the source of their funds questionable.
In 2019, Thanathorn was the subject of a complaint for holding shares in a media-related company, which would disqualify him from running for parliament. In response, the FFP filed a petition to parliament to refer 41 ruling party MPs with shares in media companies to the Constitutional Court.
This provoked the PPRP a day later to file their own list of 33 opposition parties MP with shares in media companies.
As Pareena staged her legal attack on Thanathorn’s mother, Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a former member of the now-dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party, petitioned the NACC to investigate Pareena’s ownership of the 1,700 rai of land. This is what led to her downfall now.
Section 235 of the 2017 Constitution provides for the Supreme Court and Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Position to consider cases of politicians who may be involved in corruption or who do not comply with the code of ethics for officials of independent organisations. Being found guilty can cause serious consequences such as being banned from political activities, having assets seized or being stripped of the right to vote.
People charged under this process have their political status suspended from the day the Court accepts the case.
Section 42 of the 2018 Organic Act on the Election of Members of the House of Representatives lists 21 grounds for disqualification, ranging from drug addiction and bankruptcy to conviction for crimes related to fraud, corruption, drugs, money laundering or gambling.
The law sets no time limitation so committing any of the offences at any point of time in one’s life will trigger disqualification.
The Constitution and the Organic Act have been combined into a lethal weapon to assassinate political enemies. MPs from both the government and the opposition have been at each other's throats trying to disqualify each other.
In addition to the cases of Pareena and Thanathorn, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit was disqualified for having shares in media company, and Sira Jenjaka of the PPRP was disqualified after it was found that he had been convicted in a fraud case in 1994.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, former FFP Secretary-General who also suffered the same disqualification as Thanathorn after their party’s dissolution, has expressed disagreement with the way MPs are disqualified under the 2017 Constitution, saying that the punishment is excessive. Revoking for life the right to run for political office is a grave violation of fundamental rights which amounts to political execution.
“The ethical standards are not about legal criteria, or a question of right or wrong legally but a matter of appropriateness, so it should not be for the Courts to judge and punish. The Court can take part in terms of review. For example, if a government official has received disciplinary punishment, they may petition the Court to revoke the punishment order, a way to check if the punishment was legitimate or not.”
“The 2017 Constitution is used in two cases, imprisonment for corruption and serious ethics violations. The drafters went around advertising it as an “anti-corruption constitution”. But actually corruption still exists and is growing. This channel is a way to deal with politicians.
“So I do not agree with the case on which the Supreme Court tried Pareena, and propose that we should not be happy with things like this. On the contrary, we should campaign to point out the dangerous problems with the 2017 Constitution and fight against ‘legal warfare’,” said Piyabutr.
Atthapol Buapat, a political activist, told Matichon that he agreed with the Court order stripping Pareena of her political status as it fits the offences she committed. However, he thought the 10-year ban on voting was not right as it is a fundamental right for Thai people to be able to vote for their representatives.