Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun has sued Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome for defamation, after Rangsiman gave a speech during last week's censure debate on Upakit’s business links to Tun Min Latt, a Myanmar tycoon with close ties to coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hliang.
Rangsiman Rome speaking during the censure debate
During last week’s censure debate, which took place over two days, Rangsiman mentioned in his speech Upakit’s alleged involvement with Allure P&E, a company used for money laundering by Tun Min Latt.
Rangsiman said that Upakit was not only the founder and former major shareholder of the Thailand-based Allure Group (P&E) Co Ltd but also a co-founder of Myanmar Allure along with Tun Min Latt, while his son-in-law Dean Young Gultula was allegedly a former shareholder and board member of both companies.
In Thailand, a court case is currently proceeding against Tun Min Latt, Dean, and two other individuals, for using the Allure Group (P&E) to launder drug-related money through electricity purchases. The four are currently detained in a Thai prison.
Rangsiman also presented a court order from 3 October 2022 overturning a Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Upakit. He also claimed that the arrest warrant was retracted because Upakit was an “important person” who should be summoned but not arrested.
Prachatai and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) also found in October 2022 that Upakit was wanted for arrest in connection with an alleged drug trafficking and money laundering ring operating out of a casino in the Golden Triangle, but the warrant was quickly retracted. A Thai news programme, meanwhile, reported that it never existed, while another outlet took down a story about the warrant without explanation.
Rangsiman noted in his speech that Upakit also owns a plot of land in Bangkok’s Soi Ari 5 and that the land is now the site of the headquarters for the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, a recently established political party that Gen Prayut recently joined.
On Friday (17 February), a day after Rangsiman’s parliament speech, Upakit’s lawyer filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Rangsiman over the content of the speech, as well as a civil lawsuit demanding 100 million baht in damages.
Rangsiman responded in a Facebook post that a defamation lawsuit is not new to him, since he has been sued several times for speeches given during censure debates. He was sued when he gave a speech about Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s involvement with the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation, claiming that Gen Prawit used his charity to foster connections with the private sector.
Rangsiman and fellow Move Forward Party MP Bencha Saengchantra were also sued for defamation by the electricity company Gulf Energy Development, after Rangsiman spoke during a censure debate about a satellite concession and after Bencha spoke about the government’s energy policy.
Rangsiman said that his speech is part of his duty as an MP, which involves inquiring whether the government made mistakes, is involved with corruption, or has violated its ethical standards. He said that these inquiries often need to involve people outside of the government, as the government was often involved with them, but that they target the government above all. For him, retaliating with a lawsuit infringes upon an MP’s ability to act as a check and balance to the government.
Rangsiman insisted that he will fight the charges, and said that he believes he will win. He also called on Upakit, as a Senator who is paid from taxpayers’ money, to provide an explanation to the public, because even though Upakit has spoken out after Tun Min Latt was arrested, Rangsiman said he found several pieces of information contradicting what Upakit has said.
Move Forward Party leader and MP Pita Limjaroenrat said that the party will protect its MP and that its legal team will be assisting Rangsiman in fighting the charges. He also said that Rangsiman has told him he will use the court proceeding as an opportunity to request documents he did not have access to when preparing for the censure debate.
Meanwhile, Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, President of the Senate, said that the Senate currently has no plan to launch an investigation of Upakit, claiming that they do not have the information and no complaint has been filed.
Pornpetch also said that since Upakit filed a lawsuit against Rangsiman, the Senate cannot get involved.