Thailand PM orders satellite deal probe

Staff walk past a satellite dish farm at the Thaicom centre in Nonthaburi on Thursday. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has set up a panel to investigate a domestic satellite communications concession contract that expired on Friday which involved a company founded by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

The panel is to investigate the domestic satellite communication contract between the Transport Ministry and Shinawatra Computer and Communications Co, currently known as Intouch Holdings Plc (Intuch), from past governments until the present, government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said on Friday.

Gen Withawat Rachatanant, a former chief ombudsman, is the panel's chairman, with Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam as an adviser, Mr Thanakorn said. Deputy permanent secretary for the PM's Office Mongkolchai Som-udon is also a panel member and secretary, Mr Thanakorn said.

Other legal issues associated with the deal will also be probed by the panel.

The panel is further authorised to look into compliance, or a lack thereof, with rulings delivered by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division of Holders of Political Positions, and recommendations submitted to the cabinet by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Mr Thanakorn said.

The panel is also to advise the Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry on negotiations on the issues, how to act in line with a cabinet resolution on Sept 7, 2021, as well as on a move to find those responsible for causing damage to the state and the public.

The panel have also been tasked with solving problems after the contracts expire by setting a framework for negotiations between parties to the contracts to ensure fairness and maximum benefits for the country.

On Tuesday, the cabinet resolved that Intouch Holdings increase its stake in Thaicom Plc, the operator of satellites, from 41.13% to at least 51% so the company will have be able to take total management control.

The court previously ruled that the amendment of the fifth satellite concession contract in 2004 which allowed the company to reduce its stakes in Thaicom to be below 50% was not correct. The panel's chairman must also regularly report the findings, recommendations or solutions to the prime minister, the spokesman said.

The probe is intended to ensure compliance with the law and other relevant regulations and to protect frequencies and the right to operate the satellite orbits which are national assets.

Mr Thanakorn said that the 30-year concession contract, signed on Sept 11, 1991, expired on Friday.

Sources said the prime minister set up the panel to look into issues regarding Thaicom's satellites.

Thaicom Plc, formerly known as Shin Satellite Plc, is the first and only company to provide commercial satellite services. It was awarded a concession from the Transport Ministry.

Government sources also said that there have been complaints against state officials over their failure to comply with rulings delivered by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division of Holders of Political Positions.

The panel will also examine contracts between past governments and Shinawatra Computer % Communications, the sources said.

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