Thai army whistleblower accused of abandoning post gets bail
By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA | Associated Press | Published: June 22, 2020
BANGKOK — A Thai army sergeant who alleged corruption was rampant in his unit was granted bail Monday by a military court after he was accused of abandoning his post, which he said he did because he feared for his safety.
The military court in Bangkok granted Sgt. Narongchai Intharakawi's release on 50,000 baht ($1,610) bail, his lawyer Norasate Nanongtoom said.
Narongchai appeared at the court Monday to face charges of disobeying an officer and going absent without leave, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The military had sought his detention.
Narongchai's case has attracted attention because it comes after the military agreed to crack down on corruption after a soldier who felt he had been cheated by his commander went on a shooting spree in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in February, killing 29 people, mostly civilians.
Army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong acknowledged after the mass shooting that officers were involved in corruption and promised a crackdown.
Narongchai told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he first voiced his concerns about corruption in 2017, when he was a clerk at the Army Ordnance Material Rebuilding Center. He said allowances and expenses were drawn in various soldiers' names, including his own, on the basis of bogus trips and seminars.
After he complained, he said, his name was no longer used in the phony accounting, but his army career suffered.
When he discovered in 2019 that his name was again being used to draw bogus expenses, he complained to the state Ombudsman's Office, but he said his situation only got worse. He had an argument with one of his superiors, which led to him being charged with disobeying an officer.
Narongchai said he next decided to call a hotline that the army commander had established for reporting military corruption, but at the same time agreed to meet with superiors who assured him that his situation could be resolved if he apologized.
A video of the meeting in March shows a general sternly warning him not to speak out. Narongchai said the video did not show parts where verbal threats were made against his life.
When shortly afterwards he was ordered to serve a week's detention for disobeying an officer, he said he also learned his superior was upset he had called the hotline.
Narongchai said he then decided he would not be safe in military detention, so he fled his unit, taking with him documents that he said support his allegations of graft.
Army spokesman Col. Winthai Suwaree told the AP on Monday that Narongchai was facing punishment solely for leaving his post, and not because he exposed financial wrongdoing.
Winthai said an army investigation supported the allegations of corruption, which were referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
Narongchai said he now has nothing to lose and will fight his case to the end "to see what kind of men the army prefers to protect."
"My unit is very small. And if it can happen a few times a year in my unit, imagine how much money is involved in the whole country. We are talking about easily millions of the taxpayers' money. I just couldn't stand the thought of blatant thievery," he said.
Associated Press writer Busaba Sivasomboon contributed to this report.