[Update-1] Thai court rules drug-dealing minister can still hold office

Thailand’s courts ruled on Wednesday that Deputy Agricultural Minister Thammanat Prompao can continue to hold office despite being convicted of previous drug trafficking charges in Australia.

The court ruled that the case was ruled on by a foreign court in a different country so the conviction has no effect on his standing in Thailand. Therefore Thammanat is still able to serve as a cabinet-level minister and hold on to his MP status.

Thammanat is seen as a key figure within the military-backed ruling Palang Pracharath Party. The former Pheu Thai ally switched sides in the latest election and is an influential political figure.

Pichai Naripthaphan, Pheu Thai’s deputy leader, told Thai Enquirer on Wednesday that having a person associated with drugs to hold on to a cabinet position is disgraceful. “It shows the low level of standard in the current government and the country because this would not happen abroad,” he said.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported in September 2019 that Thammanat had pleaded guilty and accepted a four-year minimum jail term for conspiring to import heroine from Bangkok to Bondi before he was deported.

Thammanat denied all allegations against him during a censure debate in February 2020, saying that that the 3.2 kilograms of heroin that authorities in New South Wales discovered on him was “flour”.

Opposition leaders have cried favouritism by the judicial system of Thailand, which has previously disbanded two opposition political parties and disqualified several MPs and MP candidates who had opposed the military-backed government.

“The fact that we have to wait for the constitutional court to decide on this is also quite shameful,” Pheu Thai’s Pichai added. He said Thammanat lied to parliament about the heroine being flour, and the latest ruling was unacceptable because the Australian appeal court’s own finding was very clear.

Teeratchai Panthumas, an MP with the opposition Move Forward Party, said the constitution states clearly that a person cannot become an MP or a minister if previously sentenced to jail for a drug-related offence.

He pointed out that, as Thailand is signatory various anti-drug laws, this is not just a domestic issue but also an international one.

“I believe that if we base it on the intention of the law that was passed, he should not be able to continue his post,” he said. “The Constitutional court should also follow up for violations of the law by the conduct of government political parties.”

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