Thai official resigns after being caught on camera over drunken Japanese hotel painting theft

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 11:07pm

A Thai official caught on camera drunkenly stealing paintings from a Japanese hotel said on Tuesday he will resign, after causing intense diplomatic embarrassment for Bangkok.

We were drunk and I unconsciously and unintentionally committed an inappropriate act
Suphat Saguandeekul

News of the sticky-fingered bureaucrat’s failed heist first emerged last week when Japanese media reported that the official had been arrested trying to lift three paintings from a hotel in Kyoto.

Hotel staff noticed the paintings – worth around US$125 – were missing, checked the building’s CCTV and swiftly identified the culprit, Suphat Saguandeekul, a 60-year-old official with Thailand’s Commerce Ministry.

Suphat – who is deputy director of the Department of Intellectual Property, tasked with trying to roll back Thailand’s reputation as a counterfeit hub – was promptly arrested and charged with theft.

“After I finished my mission in Japan I met with some university friends. We were drunk and I unconsciously and unintentionally committed an inappropriate act,” Suphat said in his resignation letter on Tuesday. Suphat, who had extended his stay in Japan after a government trip to Osaka, added he was “profoundly sorry” in the letter sent to media.

In the wake of his arrest last week, Thai diplomats scrambled to secure Suphat’s release, which they did after he admitted his guilt and paid the hotel compensation.

On his return home the Commerce Ministry initially announced he would be “transferred” to a new role pending an investigation.

That decision sparked public anger and much online mirth in a country where government officials are rarely sacked for wrongdoing and instead quietly moved to different posts.

Graft is endemic in Thailand, where civil servants have a poor reputation for taking bribes to top up their income.

Thailand’s ruling generals partly justified their 2014 coup as a bid to end corruption.

Some businesses’ figures have since reported a noticeable reduction in the need to use sweeteners to clinch contracts. But the junta has also been dogged by its own corruption scandals.

Thai junta under scrutiny following allegations of exorbitant spending and nepotism

In recent days junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended his cabinet’s decision to extend a multi-million dollar Bangkok convention centre contract to a major conglomerate without inviting competing bids. Last year the military came under fire over allegations it received kickbacks during the construction of a royal park.

Thailand plunged in Transparency International’s annual corruption ranking index released this month – from 76th to 101st. The anti-corruption watchdog explained that fall was primarily down to the lack of transparency, oversight and accountability under military rule.