Justice Minister Dismisses Jail-Term Row

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin has shrugged off rising criticism over the ministry’s role in pushing to up to five royal decrees offering reduced prison terms over four years to people convicted of graft.

Anti-corruption advocates are unhappy after news came to light that convicts in corruption cases had been included on the list of inmates due for reduced prison terms in five royal pardons.

Earlier this week, the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) said it opposed such eased sentences after it was revealed that those convicted in the rice-pledging case launched under the former Yingluck Shinawatra government were to benefit from a royal pardon to mark the birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great on 5th December.

Two inmates who benefited from this royal pardon were ex-commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and his deputy Poom Sarapol.

Boonsong, who was sentenced to 48 years in jail by the Supreme Court, has had his term reduced to 10 years and eight months. He will be freed in April 2028. Poom was sentenced to 36 years by the Supreme Court. He will have his prison term reduced to five years and is due to be released in August 2025.

Mr Thepsuthin on Wednesday denied having close ties with Boonsong, as claimed by some critics, while insisting all cases of reduced jail terms approved by the ministry for proposing a royal pardon were strictly in line with the law.

He declined to comment, however, on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s move to order the formation of an independent committee to look into alleged irregularities regarding past cases of lessened jail terms.

The ACT posted on Facebook post on Wednesday saying the public is looking forward to hearing Prayut’s and Somsak’s stance on this matter.

Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, meanwhile, petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman to seek an interpretation by the Constitutional Court as to whether the five royal decrees are against the constitution or not.

The inclusion of people convicted of corruption on the list of inmates due to receive reduced jail terms, attached to these royal decrees, has raised eyebrows as to why a government that has vowed to suppress corruption — a reason it cited for the military coup — would ever approve shortened jail terms for those guilty of graft, he said.

If the court rules the royal decrees are in breach of the charter, the entire cabinet should resign, he added.