Sunday, June 25, 2017
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THE former chairman of Chulalongkorn University Savings Cooperative – wanted for fraud after allegedly luring people into a lottery “scam” that caused hundreds of millions in damages – surrendered to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) in Bangkok early yesterday morning.

Dr Sawat Saengbangpla, 79, turned himself in to investigators at around 2am, CSD chief Pol Maj-General Suthin Sappuang confirmed. 

Central Investigation Bureau chief Pol Lt-General Thitirat Nonghanpitak will announce details of the case at a press conference today.

‘Confessed to bogus scheme’

A police source said Sawat confessed during six hours of interrogation that the lottery scheme was bogus. 

Investigators will now seek to trace his transactions, retrieve the money and arrest more accomplices. 

The source said Sawat would be taken to court today when they seek approval for an initial period of detention. They will object to him being released on bail on grounds that the ‘scam’ caused Bt540 million in damages to 78 victims and he may tamper with evidence.

Arrest warrants have been extended for suspected money launderers, including Methawat Khonman, 32, who allegedly received Bt40 million to Bt60 million from 2010 until February from Sawat; Pavisaporn Baiket, 28, who allegedly received Bt42 million from Sawat; and Pavisaporn’s friend Jiratchaya Khunyosying, 32. 

Victims complained to police after Sawat suddenly disappeared after failing to pay them dividends from a separate cooperative scheme he allegedly lured them to invest in. 

The people who lost money were told that the scheme, which reportedly ran from 2010, would buy and resell lottery tickets and yield a high return of one per cent a month. 

KHON PI LONG, Chiang Rai — China’s plan to blast open more of the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships could founder on a remote outcrop of half-submerged rocks that Thai protesters have vowed to protect against Beijing’s economic expansion in Southeast Asia.

Dynamiting the Pi Long rapids and other sections of the Mekong between Thailand and Laos will harm the environment and bring trade advantages only to China, the protesters say.

“This will be the death of the Mekong,” said Niwat Roykaew, chairman of the Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group, which is campaigning against the project. “You’ll never be able to revive it.”

Mr Niwat said blasting the Mekong will destroy fish breeding grounds, disrupt migrating birds and cause increased water flow that will erode riverside farmland.

Such opposition reflects a wider challenge to China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project to build a modern-day Silk Road through Asia to Europe.

Second Harbour Consultants, a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth China Communications Construction Corp (CCCC) said it was surveying the Mekong for a report that China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand would use to decide whether blasting should go ahead.

It added that it was not tasked with the blasting, which would need to go to tender.

The company said in an email it had held meetings with local people “to communicate, build confidence and clear doubts”.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clearing the Mekong for bigger ships is not officially a part of One Belt, One Road, a project announced in 2013. China blasted sections of the river in Laos several years earlier.

But some Chinese engineers involved in the survey speak of it as a part of the broader plan, and it is consistent with Beijing’s Silk Road objectives.

Even in its Southeast Asian backyard, where it has sympathetic governments and ancient historical ties, China sometimes struggles to convince ordinary people that One Belt One Road will benefit them.

Thailand, Laos and Myanmar have approved the survey work, which is funded by China, but further studies and approvals are needed before blasting.

Keeping a low profile

The Mekong River originates in the Tibetan plateau and cascades through China and five Southeast Asian countries.

China has built a series of dams along its stretch of the river that Thai campaigners say has impacted the water flow and made the regional giant hard to trust.

Chinese flags now flutter from company speedboats, while CCCC Second Harbour has met with Thai protesters three times since December in a bid to avert opposition to their work.

A unit of the conglomerate faced violent protests in January in Sri Lanka, where people objected to plans for an industrial zone in the south.

Chinese engineers on the Mekong said they were worried that Thai protesters would board the rickety cargo ship where they slept, prompting them to moor it on the Lao side of the Mekong each night.

“We are afraid for our team’s safety,” one engineer told Reuters, declining to be named because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.

“We keep a low profile here,” he added. “We want to do this project well and benefit Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, China, these four countries. This is not just for China.”

China wants to remove rocks and sandbanks to allow ships of up to 500 tonnes to sail from its landlocked province of Yunnan to the sleepy Laotian town of Luang Prabang.

That would expedite the shipping of Chinese freight deep into northern Laos, said Paul Chambers, an expert in international relations at Thailand’s Naresuan University.

“Luang Prabang may seem sleepy, but northern Laos … represents a hub of Chinese influence,” he said.

 

RIDE-HAILING service Grab yesterday began a two-wheeled service in partnership with Bangkok’s army of motorbike taxi riders – known collectively as Win.

For the GrabBike (Win) service, passengers can use the Grab mobile app to book a ride and request pickup for any destination in Bangkok. The launch of services followed a trial.

GrabBike is Grab’s fastest growing service in Southeast Asia, providing locals and visitors with a faster and more reliable way of getting around in congested cities, the company says.

Grab says GrabBike (Win) is intended to complement the city’s public transport services, and fulfils passengers’ needs for quick, efficient and affordable connectivity between districts, especially during peak hours.

“Grab is excited to launch our GrabBike (Win) service, working with participating driver-partners to provide fast and convenient on-demand rides to people visiting, working and living in Bangkok,” said Wee Tang Yee, country head of Grab Thailand.

“We worked closely with the Department of Land Transport for our trial service and are now expanding GrabBike (Win) to cover all areas of Bangkok. Grab stands for greater transport freedom, safety and accessibility for the Thai people and we are committed to continuously improve the livelihoods of our driver-partners through the Grab platform.”

The company said the GrabBike (Win) trial service provided Win driver-partners the opportunity to learn and make better use of the Grab app and its features to complete more rides.

Grab’s ride-hailing technology is improving the efficiency of the current Win system by better balancing driver supply and passenger demand between Win spots within city districts. This helps reduce passenger waiting times and increase driver productivity resulting in higher daily incomes for Win driver-partners without increasing their work time.The GrabBike (Win) service is served by motorbike taxi drivers licensed the Department of Land Transport. GrabBike (Win) fares are priced the same as local Win bike rides and are displayed in the app before passengers make their bookings. Passengers can pay for rides with cash or use the firm’s GrabPay service. With GrabPay, the fare is charged to a passenger’s registered credit card on the app after the ride.

 

 

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says he will discuss the controversial media reform draft bill in the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The premier responded to 30 media organisations which asked him to suspend the bill following their concerns the law could lead to state authority overshadowing media affairs.

“I’ll look at these concerns and will discuss this with the Cabinet today,” Prayut said after receiving a letter proposed by Thai Journalists Association president Pramed Lekpetch.

The media’s move came a day after the National Reform Steering Assembly endorsed the draft bill.

While the controversial licensing requirement and its penalties were removed following high concern from the media, the proposed media professional council featuring two ministerial permanent secretaries remained in the draft.

The bill draft will be forwarded to the Cabinet for further consideration.

The PM said: “The government’s only hope is to improve this country. The media should also help us with this.

“The media are speakers to the government’s good deeds because the government doesn’t do anything bad … Please don’t think that the government overshadows everything. But the media need to be capable to self-regulate also.”

In a letter directly handed to Prayut, the media groups expressed concern about the so-called media professional council, fearing it would allow the state to take part in the industry despite the press having the role of monitoring authorities’ use of power.

They also said the bill draft defined media workers too broadly – that it would cover not only professional workers but also general media users. This would result in the groups being regulated by mechanisms proposed in the draft, they said.

The media groups also said the constitution should be followed by in relation to the matter. In the charter, they said, it was stipulated that people’s freedom of expression was guaranteed while any legislation must be issued on a necessity basis and must go through a hearing involving related parties.

“We support media self-regulation where laws may be issued to recognise the status of the media,” the groups said. “But the laws must not aim to punish the media and be pushed without receiving holistic opinions from related party.”

 

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