Gulf Energy sues Thai Sang Thai party members over press conference

The electricity company Gulf Energy Development has filed a defamation lawsuit against two members of the Thai Sang Thai party over a press conference about rising electricity costs.

Treerat Sirichantaropas (left) and Ronnakad Chinsamran (right) during the October 2022 press conference. (Photo from Thai Sang Thai party).

Treerat Sirichantaropas, Deputy Secretary-General of the Thai Sang Thai party, posted pictures of summonses from the South Bangkok Criminal Court and the South Bangkok Civil Court on his Twitter account on Wednesday (7 June). He said that Gulf Energy has filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against himself, the Thai Sang Thai party, and party member Ronnakad Chinsamran, over a press conference in which they discussed rising electricity costs and the government’s contract with independent power producers. The company also filed a civil defamation lawsuit against them, demanding compensation of 1 billion baht.

Treerat wrote that he was raising questions as a representative of the party whose job is to voice the concerns of the public, especially when it comes to cost of living issues, noting that the people must be able to question the government or its contract partners.

He wrote that he would use his trial as an opportunity to request all documents relating to the electricity production contract between the government and the company and present them to the public.

During a press conference in October 2022, Treerat and Ronnakad spoke about rising electricity prices, raising questions about why the government at the time signed a contract to produce so much more electricity than what is used. They noted that Thailand is producing 60% more power than it uses, while normally electricity reserves are around 20% more than peak consumption. They then speculated that this, combined with rising natural gas prices, led to higher electricity costs, noting that the Thailand Consumers Council (TCC) has previously warned the government that a high electricity reserve would mean higher household electricity bills.

Treerat and Ronnakad are now among 7 people sued for defamation by Gulf Energy. In November 2021, the company sued Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome over a September 2021 censure debate speech about a satellite concession, questioning the influence of Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Minister of Digital Economy and Society, in the energy company’s dramatic growth. It also sued the Party for publishing the content of the debate.

In December 2022, the South Bangkok Criminal Court accepted a lawsuit the company filed against Bencha Saengchantra, another Move Forward MP, over a February 2021 censure debate speech about the government’s energy policy and how it grants concessions.

Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of the far-right Thai Pakdee Party, was also sued by the company in November 2021 over a Facebook live broadcast in which he said that Gulf Energy is trying to gain a monopoly in telecommunication and internet businesses through buying shares in the telecommunication companies Intouch Holdings and Advanced Info Service (AIS). He also alleged that Gulf Energy was going to bid for a satellite concession.

In December 2021, Gulf Energy also sued Same Sky Books editor and co-founder Thanapol Eawsakul for sharing a Facebook post Rangsiman made about being sued by the company. The company demanded that Thanapol pay 50 million baht compensation with 5 percent interest, publish the full version of the court’s ruling in 15 newspapers, both online and offline, delete the post and pay court costs.

In late May, academic Sarinee Achavanuntakul said she was sued by the company over a post she made in April about power plant monopolies and the rise in electricity costs, in which she wrote about an independent power producer bid, where Gulf Energy was the sole winner, and the lawsuit resulting from a complaint filed by the Labour Union of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to the State Sector Budget Expenditure Monitoring and Audit Committee that the bid may have been fraudulent.

Gulf Energy is demanding compensation of 100 million baht in each lawsuit, with the exception of Thanapol, who is being sued for 50 million baht. If it wins every lawsuit, the company could be paid as much as 550 million baht.

According to its website, GULF is a holding company that invests in power generation, gas, renewable energy, hydropower and infrastructure and utilities businesses. It is also the kingdom’s largest private gas-fired and renewable power producer for the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and private clients.

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