Court rules in favour of Klong Dan consortium

The Supreme Administrative Court has ordered a lower court to accept a petition by the consortium that built the Klong Dan wastewater treatment plant, the most notoriously corrupt public-works project in recent Thai history.

The NVPSKG consortium, linked to several prominent political figures from the 1990s, has accused the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) of unlawfully investigating its members' bank accounts and financial transactions.

According to the consortium, Amlo had asked for cooperation from banks and financial institutions to report transactions from bank accounts belonging to the six companies under the consortium to the agency.

It said Amlo's move was unlawful, and submitted the petition to the Central Administrative Court seeking the scrapping of such an order. The lower court threw out its petition and the consortium appealed the decision.

The NVPSKG consortium comprised six firms -- Vijitphan Construction, Prayoonvit Co, Sisaeng Karnyotha, Krungthon Engineering, Gateway Development, and Samut Prakan Operating Co.

Prayoonvit was founded by the father of former political heavyweight Suwat Lipatapallop, and Sisaeng Karnyotha by the late Banharn Silpa-archa, who served briefly as prime minister in the mid-1990s. It was Mr Suwat, who was serving in the cabinet of Chuan Leekpai at the time, who first proposed the wastewater treatment project for approval.

In its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Administrative Court said the Amlo order directly affected the six companies while the agency had not filed a civil lawsuit against the consortium to initiate a legal process to seize their assets.

The Supreme Administrative Court ordered the Central Administrative Court to accept the consortium's petition for consideration as well as its request for an injunction before the hearing proceeds.

The petition is one of several disputes between the consortium and state agencies over the graft-plagued plant in Samut Prakan.

In January this year, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) filed a petition with the Central Administrative Court, asking it to reconsider the case.

Klong Dan has been dubbed the “mother of all corruption cases", dating back to 1995 when the cabinet first approved two water treatment plants in Samut Prakan. The construction cost ballooned from 13.6 billion baht to 22.9 billion, mainly because of the inflated cost of land illegally acquired earlier by the project's well-connected backers.

Vatana Asavahame, a former deputy interior minister, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for bribing officials to issue title deeds to him for public land that was later sold to the project. He fled the country in 2008.

The scale of the corruption was matched only by the incompetence of the officials handling the project. They are still fighting a court order to pay the contractors 9 billion baht in compensation for unfair termination of the contract when the work was 98% complete. The plant is still not operating and it is not clear whether it ever will be put into service.

The lengthy investigation into the Klong Dan mess also ensnared three former officials of the Pollution Control Department, who were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in December 2015.

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