Monday, April 19, 2021

Thailand’s former tourism chief sentenced to 50 years for bribery

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An ex-governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand was sentenced to 50 years in prison on Monday for allegedly accepting bribes from organizers of an international film festival back in the early 2000s.

Juthamas Siriwan, 73, was found guilty by the lower courts of up to 11 charges, including collusion, malfeasance, and bribery. The conviction was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court on Monday, ending decades of court saga that saw involvement from the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.

Juthamas was sent back to prison upon hearing the verdict; she has been incarcerated since 2017, when the appeal court found her guilty of the charges and denied her bail.

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She served as the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand from 2002 to 2006.

According to the prosecutors, Juthamas demanded 1.8 million U.S. dollars from an American film producer couple, Gerald and Patricia Green, in exchange for a contract to organize the annual Bangkok International Film Festival from 2002 to 2007.

The case was later exposed in 2014, when the National Anti-Corruption Commission announced there was proof that Juthamas and her daughter, Jittisopa Siriwan, of corruption in the film festival.

The commission said it received key evidence from the American authorities, including the Federal Investigation Bureau and the Justice Department.

A U.S. court in 2010 also handed down a six-month prison term for the two film producers after the pair was convicted of paying bribes to foreign officials for financial gain.

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Gerald and Patricia Green earned more than 13 million U.S. dollars in revenue from the illicit deal they made with Juthamas, the U.S. court found.

Juthamas herself was found guilty by a Thai court in 2017 and sentenced to 66 years in jail, though the term was capped at 50 years under the laws. The court also implicated her daughter, Jittisopa, in the alleged crimes and sentenced her to 44 years in prison.

Investigators said Jittisopa assisted in the scheme by opening offshore bank accounts to receive the bribe money. Like Juthamas, Jittisopa was not granted a bail release.

The scandal brought much embarrassment to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, an agency tasked with oversight over the country’s lucrative tourism industry. Thailand earned about 1.93 trillion baht in revenues from tourists in 2019.

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