Probe ‘points to graft’ in THAI A340 aircraft deal

Some employees of Thai Airways International (THAI) became unusually rich from a major plane procurement deal struck in 2003-2004, according to a police-led investigation team set up by the Transport Ministry.

The conclusion was drawn after the team led by Pol Lt Gen Charnthep Sesaves, a former Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner, completed its investigation, Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam said on Thursday.

A Thai Airways Airbus A340-600 touches down in a landing test in Bangkok in 2005. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
A Thai Airways Airbus A340-600 touches down in a landing test in Bangkok in 2005. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

Mr Thaworn said he was assigned by Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob to announce the results of the investigation to parliament on Wednesday.

He said the focus of the investigation was on the factors that played a major part in landing the struggling airline deep in the red. THAI has run up debts exceeding 244 billion baht.

The Central Bankruptcy Court is hearing from THAI’s creditors after the airline presented a debt rehabilitation plan to the court.

Three hearings are expected to be wrapped up before the end of this month and the court will decide whether to approve the rehab blueprint.

Mr Thaworn said the probe team discovered that between 2003 and 2004, THAI had purchased 10 Airbus A340 wide-bodied aircraft. The planes were to be used on direct flights linking Bangkok with New York and Los Angeles.

Two years after the Bangkok-US services were launched, the airline recorded losses of 12 billion baht. The losses widened to 39 billion baht after the same aircraft were flown on other routes.

The direct flights to the US went ahead despite the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council objecting to THAI acquiring those type of planes. The agency questioned the feasibility of operating the fuel-guzzler planes profitably.

Mr Thaworn said the Charnthep team’s findings will be forwarded to the National Anti-Corruption Commission and he would divulge further details of the probe later this month.

Pol Lt Gen Charnthep also said some THAI employees had pocketed ill gotten gains from managing procurement projects including the A340 deal.

“Corruption had definitely occurred,” he said.

Mr Thaworn said he had consulted the Council of State, which is the government’s legal arm, and was informed the Charnthep team had to wind down its probe because THAI was no longer a state enterprise and therefore does not come under the supervision of the Transport Ministry any more.

BANGKOK POST

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