The tables have been turned on prolific petitioner Srisuwan Janya, who has become the accused rather than the accuser.
Once admired by many and feared by his targets, the self-styled anti-corruption campaigner was arrested at his house in Pathum Thani on Friday for allegedly extorting money from a senior bureaucrat.
The arrest was made during a sting operation conducted by the Royal Thai Police’s Anti-Corruption Division, the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
The operation was launched after Natthakit Khongthip, director-general of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives’ Rice Department, filed a police complaint accusing Srisuwan of demanding 1.5 million baht in exchange for staying silent over alleged corruption in two of the agency’s projects.
Natthakit claimed two politicians from the ruling coalition’s United Thai Nation Party – Yoswaris Chuklom and Pimnattha Jiraputthiphak – were accomplices in the alleged extortion bid. Yoswaris, a former comedian whose stage name was Jeng Dokjik, is a political appointee named to a government working group by Deputy Premier and Energy Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, who is the United Thai Nation leader. Pimnattha is a former election candidate of the party.
Insisting on his innocence
The trio denied all charges during police interrogation. They were released on a bond of 400,000 baht each on Saturday.
Speaking to the media after his release, Srisuwan insisted he was innocent and claimed the charges against him stemmed from vested interests who felt threatened by his petitions and were seeking retaliation.
“Toppling me will certainly make these people more confident. But I’m ready to fight this through the justice system. I have sufficient evidence to clear my name,” he said.
The 55-year-old, who has earned himself the reputation of an anti-graft crusader, has been described by the media as “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief”.
Born on May 25, 1968, in Phitsanulok province, Srisuwan earned a bachelor’s degree at Maejo University, two master’s degrees, one in political science from Ramkhamhaeng University and another in environmental management from Nida, and finally a doctorate in public policy management from Kasem Bundit University.
He says he began campaigning for social causes at university, inspired by his father, who liked to help people in trouble. After graduating, Srisuwan joined the Air Pollution and Environment Protection Foundation, a non-governmental organization.
Later, he set up the Stop Global Warming Association, before launching the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution to scrutinize politicians and bureaucrats.
In June last year, the latter organization was disbanded by order of the Department of Provincial Administration’s director-general due to unlawful registration. Just days after the disbandment, Srisuwan set up a new group called the Thai Patriotic Organization.
Hundreds of complaints filed
Over the past two decades, he has lodged hundreds of complaints with different state agencies, seeking remedial action on issues related to politics, consumer protection, corruption, and the environment. He has become a familiar face to officials in the complaints departments of the Administrative Court, NACC, Ombudsman’s Office, and Election Commission.
Many of his petitions led to improvements in people’s lives, including one against environmental pollution affecting residents living near Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong province. The Administrative Court ordered relevant authorities and businesses to listen to locals’ concerns in public hearings and take action to remedy any pollution problems. The activist said he had to brave repeated threats from business interests while working on the Map Ta Phut case.
Taking on powerful political figures
Srisuwan is also known for taking on prominent political figures, including the then-junta leader and ex-premier General Prayut Chan-o-cha and current Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.
Just before the 2019 general election, Srisuwan asked the Ombudsman to rule whether Prayut was qualified to be a prime ministerial candidate, citing a constitutional clause banning the registration of state officials as candidates. However, the Ombudsman ruled that the coup leader’s position as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta was officially called, did not equate to being a state official.
Years earlier, when the NCPO came to power following the 2014 military coup, Srisuwan filed numerous complaints against its members and associates. In return, he was regularly summoned by the junta for “attitude adjustment”, which involved lengthy lectures and brief stays at military bases.
In November last year, Srisuwan asked the NACC to investigate whether Prime Minister Srettha, in his capacity as ex-officio chairman of the Police Commission, had violated the Constitution by interfering in the appointments of police superintendents. Srisuwan’s petition came after Srettha remarked during a meeting of ruling Pheu Thai Party MPs that some of them might be disappointed over their requests regarding police appointments since there were too many requests and not all could be granted.
But Srisuwan scored his biggest victory in February 2020, when one of his complaints led to the disbandment of the Future Forward Party. Newcomer Future Forward was the third-largest party in Parliament at the time after making a stunning debut at the 2019 general election.
The court determined that 191 million baht loaned to the party at an unusually low interest rate by its leader, tycoon-turned-politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, should be considered a political donation. As such it exceeded the legal limit for political donations of 10 million baht per person per year, as set by the Political Parties Act.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk