update

Former perm sec's assets frozen in welfare funds case

Villagers in Sing Buri being questioned by investigators of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission Office during the probe into welfare fund embezzlement in the province. (File photo: Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

The Anti-Money Laundering Office has impounded 88-million-baht of the assets of a former permanent secretary and two former high-ranking officials accused of demanding “change” from state welfare funds for the underprivileged.

An order to freeze their assets was issued early Wednesday and Amlo immediately filed a complaint with police Counter Corruption Division chief Pol Maj Gen Kamol Rienracha.

The three suspects were employed at the Social Development and Human Security Ministry and had "behaved dishonestly" in the handling of several million baht allocated for payment to poor people, acting Amlo secretary-general Romsit Wiriyasan said.

“Thirty percent was deducted from each handout as ‘change’,” which was given back to senior officials in cash, not a  money transfer via banks, to avoid inspection, according to Witthaya Nititham, who oversees Amlo’s legal affairs.

The trio are the ministry's former permanent secretary Phutthiphat Loetchaowasit, his former deputy Narong Khongkha and former inspector-general Thiraphong Sisukhon.

They are among 12 suspects, including some welfare centre chiefs and their associates, who allegedly colluded to falsify documents, launder and receive embezzled money, according Amlo investigators.

One suspect is identified as a former female official who was a close aide of Mr Phutthiphat when he had served as chief of the Social Development and Welfare Department, Mr Witthaya said.

A check found irregularities in the money trail, he said.

The embezzled money was later converted into a variety of assets, 41 in total - luxury cars, apartments, blocks of land and bank deposits - worth about 88 million baht in total. 

Pol Maj Gen Romsit warned people against involvement in receiving or transferring these assets as they will be subject to harsh penalties under the Amlo law.

"They can be jailed for up to 10 years for each mistake," he said.

Amlo has worked closely with the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission in a large-scale investigation into the embezzlement that has plagued welfare centres nationwide.

In May the PACC concluded its investigation, finding that only nine out of the 76 provincial welfare centres were free of corruption.

The scandal came to light after four students of Maha Sarakham University exposed irregularities while working as interns at Khon Kaen Protection for the Destitute, which was established to distribute welfare payments to the underprivileged and to HIV patients.

One student claimed she and her friends were ordered by the centre director and some senior officials to fill in forms and sign receipts for payments to 2,000 residents for nearly 7 million baht. Many never received any of the money due them and others received only part of it.

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