Thai 'anti-corruption vigilante' Chuwit: Cleaning up in his own ranks

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 22, 2012 We have featured the former massage parlor tycoon turned anti-corruption vigilante Chuwit Kamolvisit before (see here), whose Rak Thailand Party surprisingly scored a few seats in the House at the elections last year (and where Chuwit also knew how to make a first impression) and positioned themselves as an opposition watchdog. Since then, he has regularly exposed illegal gambling dens and prostitution rings, most of them operating with the knowledge and involvement of police, politicians and other officials.

And if the case we are highlighting today is anything to go by, he is not stopping at his own party either:

Chuvit Kamolvisit, leader of the Rak Thailand Party, has submitted a request to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) seeking an investigation into whether an MP of his own party had abused his political post for self-interest.

Mr Chuvit accused Chaiwat Krairiksh, a Rak Thailand list MP, of using his political poskition to divert funds of the Rural Roads Department for building a road passing in front of his house in Pak Phanang district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province. (...)

Along with the request, Mr Chuvit submitted to the NACC a video clip which he said was evidence against Mr Chaiwat. 

"Chuvit seeks probe into own MP", Bangkok Post, February 8, 2012

In the mentioned video (viewable in Thai here), filmed from an obviously hidden camera, Chuwit is seen talking with Chaiwat, the latter candidly talking about his plans, pretty much confirming the allegations (at about the 2:00 minute mark when asked by Chuwit "Why all this?", he replies "Because it's in front of my house!"), even being aware of the legal implications (1:20 min: "I know it's against the law!") and hinting at a possible concession by the potential contractor who will build the road in front of his house (1:39 min: "I didn't say I won't get my share, I WILL get my share").

Chuwit also mentions an incident in parliament last November, during a vote of no-confidence against justice minister Pracha Promnok for his involvement during the flood crisis as head of the Flood Relief Operations Command. Chaiwat voted in favor of Pracha, much to the anger of his party chief (4:05 min: "...and last time [in parliament], you **** made the wrong vote - even after I told you to change it!"), since the party is in the opposition, and suspects Chaiwat of pandering to the government in hope for benefits in exchange (4:11 min: "You got to finally admit that you're with the government. You think their budget, you're jumping through hoops for, is easy to get.") - to which he firmly admits of deliberately voting for Pracha.

One aspect that makes this case somewhat interesting is the decades-long friendship between these two. In an interview with Matichon Online, Chaiwat notes that they have been friends since school ("ผมเป็นเพื่อนเรียนที่โรงเรียนเทพศิรินทร์มาด้วยกัน"), but parted way during university with him becoming a lawyer and Chuwit earning his (in)famous reputation as a massage parlor tycoon. He also claims that it was him who introduced Chuwit to politics, who was not interested before - so much so as he had never used his right to vote ("วันนั้นคุณชูวิทย์ ยังไม่รู้จักการเมือง คุณชูวิทย์ยังไม่เคยไปใช้สิทธิ์เลือกตั้ง"). Together, they formed the First Thai Nation Party (พรรคต้นตระกูลไทย) in 2003, with Chaiwat being the party's general-secretary.

Fast forward to 2011 (and several party changes later), Chuwit grew increasingly contempt with Chaiwat, triggered by the deliberate vote in favor of Pracha, to which Chuwit stated that he accidentally made a rookie mistake (source). In January, Chaiwat resigned as secretary-general of the party (source). A few days later, Chuwit talked to Chaiwat, telling him that he was aware of his potential abuse of power, to which the latter supposedly reacted with the exit of the party shortly afterwards.

However, Chaiwat denied having ever signed such a document despite Chuwit's claims that several party members have witnessed the signing and these documents have been handed to the Election Commission (EC). The now former party secretary-general himself lodged an inquiry to the EC stating that he is not leaving the party and that his signature has been forged (source), thus accusing Chuwit of lying to the EC. In the video, Chaiwat has offered Chuwit to withdraw said inquiry (5:11 min), while also being determined to go through with his road project (5:21 min "But first: I really want to do this project. Second: yes, I will benefit from this project! That is the truth").

In the Matichon interview, Chaiwat defended himself from the accusation that he has not done any work from the party and not attended any meetings, since according to him there were no meetings ("มีด้วยเหรอประชุมพรรค" ชัยวัฒน์ตอบทันทีและว่า ... เพราะพรรคผมไม่ได้มีการประชุม") and whether it's politics or his businesses, it's ultimately Chuwit who decides the direction ("ทั้งพรรคทั้งบริษัท คุณชูวิทย์กำหนดทิศทางพรรคคนเดียว"). Chaiwat said that on the day of the filmed meeting with Chuwit, he has been invited by the latter for a chat 'as friends' ("เขาเป็นคนโทรศัพท์คุยกับผมเองว่า มาคุยกันในฐานะเพื่อน"). He insists that he's in the opposition and not with the government ("ผมอยู่ฝ่ายค้าน ไม่ได้อยู่ฝ่ายรัฐบาล"), even though in the clip he openly admits pandering to them.

Ultimately, Chaiwat asks the question whether or not somebody, who is secretly filming, setting up a scene and conveniently cuts everything together is in the right after all ("ส่วนในคลิปนั้น คุณจัดฉาก ตั้งกล้องแอบถ่าย ตัดแต่งเรียบร้อย สังคมก็กล่าวหาว่าคนแอบถ่ายเป็นคนถูก อย่างนั้นหรือ?"). And that is the crux of the whole story - while Chaiwat was clearly caught red-handed doing something more than questionable, it begs the question if Chuwit's means sometimes is justified. But that won't stop the anti-corruption vigilante from exposing the shady businesses of officials - even if it means he has to get his hands dirty and lose a long-time friend.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.