Jakrapob faces charges
By The Nation

Police probe finds grounds to prosecute minister

Police investigators have concluded that a case of lese majeste can be pursued against PM's Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair.

Lt-General Adisorn Nonsee, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, made the announcement yesterday following an investigation into allegations Jakrapob committed lese majeste in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in August last year.

Adisorn said the preliminary conclusion was that there were grounds to pursue a case of lese majeste against Jakrapob, though his team still needed to question a few more people and gather some more evidence.

"We'll be giving fairness to all parties. This matter is under close watch by the Thai public," he said.

"We expect to summon Jakrapob to acknowledge the charges next week. If he learns about this [first], he may surrender to the police. Otherwise, we might have to ask the court to issue an arrest warrant for him. However, since he is a minister, we'll treat him with respect."

Jakrapob has been in the hot seat and at risk of losing his Cabinet job following a translation of the text of his speech from English to Thai that was widely circulated on the Internet.

In his speech, Jakrapob took on the patronage system and fiercely criticised General Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council. At that time, he was heading an anti-coup group. A complaint of lese majeste was subsequently filed against him because his speech was alleged to border on offending the monarchy.

There has been growing pressure for Jakrapob to resign. The Democrats, and most recently Natthawut Prasertwuwan, a Chat Thai Party MP, have played on the political controversy by calling for Jakrapob's resignation.

Jakrapob called a news conference to profess his loyalty to the monarchy and commissioned another translation of his speech to try to clear to his name. But he reserved his right to criticise Prem.

He is currently on a week's leave from office, which he said he would use to weigh public opinion on the matter and consider his future course.

According to Article 112, a person found guilty of committing lese majeste can be sentenced to between three and 15 years in prison.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has said he will not force Jakrapob to resign unless the matter goes through the justice system. If there were grounds to suspect him of lese majeste and the case reached the courts, then Jakrapob would automatically have to step down from office, Samak indicated.

Asked whether Jakrapob should resign to show responsibility for his controversial speech, the military's Supreme Commander Boonsrang Niumpradit replied: "I didn't say so. I am just talking about the matter in principle."

He said that for a holder of public office resigning did not mean losing face. "You are a hero, just like a samurai who commits hara-kiri," he said.