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Thailand: Anti-Corruption Law Penalties Extended to Foreigners

(Aug. 7, 2015) Amendments to Thailand’s Anti-Corruption Act took effect on July 9, 2015, upon their publication in the Royal Gazette. The amended Act imposes harsher penalties on state officials and extends the maximum penalty, capital punishment, to foreigners found guilty of corruption. (New Anti-Corruption Law in Thailand Extends Death Penalty to Foreigners, GUARDIAN (July 15, 2015, last modified Aug. 3, 2015); text of the Act in Thai (July 9, 2015), ROYAL THAI GOVERNMENT GAZETTE.)

Under new sections added to article 13 of the Act, “taking bribes in return for malfeasance” is punishable with a term of 5 to 20 years of imprisonment, life imprisonment, or the death penalty, and a fine of from 100,000 to 400,000 baht (about US$2,855-$11,420) may also be imposed. (Thailand: NACC Defends Death Penalty for Graft Cases, BANGKOK POST (July 14, 2015), Open Source Center online subscription database, ID No. SER2015071409228828.) The sentence handed down will depend on the cost to the Kingdom of Thailand caused by the offense. (Death Penalty for Corruption in Thailand, THAILAND LAW FORUM (posted July 28, 2015).) Reportedly, although prior legislation had provided for the death penalty among other various possible punishments upon conviction for bribery, capital punishment for the crime has never been applied. (New Anti-Corruption Law in Thailand Extends Death Penalty to Foreigners, supra.) The penalties under the Anti-Corruption Act will now also be applicable to foreign officials who work for foreign government agencies and international organizations and who are convicted of bribe-taking. (Thailand: NACC Defends Death Penalty for Graft Cases, supra.)

The Anti-Corruption Act provides for a statute of limitation of 20 years in corruption cases; a new provision states that this does not apply in cases where the persons concerned flee Thailand. (Id.; New Anti-Corruption Law in Thailand Extends Death Penalty to Foreigners, supra.) This provision, and the Thai government’s stated goal in general of countering corruption and reforming Thai politics, “is widely seen as targeting former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by a previous military coup in 2006” and who fled the country after being convicted in 2008 on charges related to corruption. (New Anti-Corruption Law in Thailand Extends Death Penalty to Foreigners, supra.) Had the previous statute of limitations remained in place, Shinawatra would have been able to return to Thailand in ten years. (Id.)

Reactions to the Amended Law

Thai media have quoted Sansern Poljieak, Secretary-General of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, as saying that “the punishments under the new law are appropriate because graft involving public servants is a severe offence,” but in the view of Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International, the measures are “a huge step in the wrong direction … . Thailand should be working to remove the death penalty from the legal books, not expanding its scope.” (Id.)

Other Steps by the Government

In the meantime, Thailand’s military government is said to be using its powers under section 44 of the Interim Constitution to tighten measures against corruption, by taking disciplinary action and directing tax investigations against state officials and private persons involved in graft cases. An official with the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission indicated that state officials who ignore or cover up the corrupt activities of subordinates would also face disciplinary action under section 44. (Thailand: NACC Defends Death Penalty for Graft Cases, supra.) Section 44 empowers the Prime Minister to issue any order considered necessary to “‘strengthen public unity and harmony’ or to prevent any act that undermines public peace.” (What You Need to Know About Article 44 of Thailand’s Interim Constitution, STRAITS TIMES (Apr. 7, 2015); Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim), B.E. 2557 (2014), E-LIBRARY [of Thailand parliament] (unofficial English translation).)

Under a proposal that has been floated for the creation of a specific fund to promote anti-corruption efforts, financial contributions would initially come from the Government Lottery Office, with private firms that wished to contribute joining in later on. (Thailand: NACC Defends Death Penalty for Graft Cases, supra.)