Senator files another defamation lawsuit against MP

Senator Upakit Pachariyangkun has filed another defamation lawsuit against Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome for speaking about Upakit’s business links to Tun Min Latt, a Myanmar tycoon with close ties to coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, his alleged involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering, and mishandling of charges filed against him.

Rangsiman Rome speaking during a February 2023 censure debate about Upakit's alleged involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering.

Rangsiman wrote on his Facebook profile page on Thursday (22 June) that he recently learned that Upakit had filed another criminal defamation lawsuit against him, as well as a civil lawsuit demanding 20 million baht in damages. He also wrote that Upakit filed the lawsuit claiming that Rangsiman has continued to speak about Upakit’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as police mishandling of these cases, after he was sued the first time.

Upakit previously filed criminal and civil defamation lawsuits against Rangsiman in February 2023, demanding 100 million baht in damages over a speech Rangsiman gave during the 15 February 2023 censure debate about 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 He also claimed that the arrest warrant was retracted because Upakit was an “important person” who should be summoned but not arrested.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.

Testimony from an inspector leading the team investigating drug and money laundering charges against Tun Min Latt and Dean Yong Gultula, Upakit’s son-in-law, was leaked in March 2023, stating that executives in the Criminal Court, including deputy chief justice Attakarn Foocharoen, had an arrest warrant issued for Upakit revoked. The testimony also noted that officers involved in charging Upkait were then involuntarily transferred to other posts, which has led to them to believe that the transfers were made in order to stop them from investigating Upakit.

Rangsiman said that he spoke about Upakit and the possible mishandling of the charges against him as part of an MP’s job to follow up on any issue in the country and ensuring that the judicial process is running as it should without granting impunity to anyone who commit a crime.

The Move Forward MP wrote that he has had to repeatedly speak about the case against Upakit as more information emerged following his censure debate speech and the first lawsuit, including the leaked police officer’s testimony and Upkait’s accusation that Rangsiman’s speech was part of a conspiracy to harass the senator, and because he needed to keep raising awareness and maintain the public attention on the situation.

Rangsiman wrote that he is ready to fight any lawsuit filed against him and believes that he will win. He noted that on 1 May, he and his lawyer went to court for a preliminary hearing, but Upakit asked to postpone the hearing, claiming he had a committee meeting.

This is the fourth defamation lawsuit filed against Rangsiman over his censure debate speeches. In addition to the two lawsuits filed by Upakit, Rangsiman has been sued over 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.

The electricity company Gulf Energy Development has also sued Rangsiman after he spoke during a censure debate about a satellite concession and after Bencha spoke about the government’s energy policy.

Rangsiman noted that despite reports that the responsible inquiry officer believes the senator should be indicted, the public prosecutor has yet to indict Upakit for money laundering and transnational crime. Instead, the case was forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General to rule whether Upakit would be indicted. By the time a decision is reached, Rangsiman speculated that parliament would already be back in session, and as a senator, Upakit would continue to use his immunity so that he does not have to go to court. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether the Anti-Money Laundering Office and the Office of the Narcotics Board will freeze Upkait’s assets related to the charges.

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