OAG probes political link to wind projects

Auditor-general Pisit Leelavachiropas, already hot on the trail of 133 politicians he believes have cheated on their taxes, opens a new probe into suspected corruption in opening wind farms. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) is looking into the possibility that former agriculture ministers may have been involved in embattled wind energy projects in two northeastern provinces.

Auditor-general Pisit Leelavachiropas said Sunday officials are looking into ministers' involvement in licensing private companies to set up wind farms to generate electricity on Sor Por Kor land in Chaiyaphum and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces.

He refused to identify the former ministers under investigation, saying only that the OAG is speeding up its probe into the wind energy projects.

According to public records including Electricity Generating Pcl (EGCO), the wind deals under Mr Pisit's probe were negotiated and then signed under supervision of the Energy Ministry in December 2010, during the time of the Democrat-led Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Work proceeded and other contracts were signed subsequently, under both ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and, up to last December, under the military regime of the current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

A team of officials at the OAG had conducted field inspections into the wind farms.

The office had submitted a letter to Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro), asking it to review its decision to allow companies to lease Sor Por Kor land to operate a business.

The OAG is focusing on 17 companies which had obtained licenses, he added. In some cases the companies made payments to farmers, which suggests they obtained some benefit.

The investigation came after the Nakhon Ratchasima Administrative Court ruled the Chaiyaphum land reform committee's decision to lease Sor Por Kor land to Thep Sathit Wind Farm Co was unlawful and ordered it revoked.

According to the court, the land lease for the company is in breach of the agricultural land reform law which requires that allowing Sor Por Kor land use for activities besides agriculture can be done only if those activities are in the interests of farmers. The court said wind farms generate electricity, which is in the interests of the public. However, they are also a profit-making business and do not offer direct benefits to farmers.

Mr Pisit said the OAG had asked Alro to find the person who initiated the idea of leasing the Sor Por Kor land to companies.

The OAG's examinations found that local politicians are linked to wind energy projects and they may have taken advantage of the operation, he added.

Mr Pisit insists the Sor Por Kor land must be reserved for farmers who make use the agricultural land for farming.

Alro has misused the Sor Por Kor land by allowing companies to run their business on agricultural land reserve land, he said. The business can make a profit for those behind it but this limits the opportunities of farmers to use the land they deserve, he added.

Alro's secretary-general Sompong Inthong said officials are preparing a report on Sor Por Kor land lease contracts for wind energy projects for 17 companies to be submitted to Agriculture and cooperatives Minister Chatchai Sarikulya this month.

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