Karun Sakulpradit, the permanent secretary of education, yesterday (Mar 26) announced the immediate dismissal of Rojana Sinthi, a senior planning and policy analysis specialist attached to the ministry.
She is to be investigated by the ministry, the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo), the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the Technology Crime Suppression Division and Don Muang police.
Yesterday, the ministry held a meeting to determine what disciplinary action should be taken against Rojana.
After more than two hours of discussion, the seven-member meeting decided unanimously to dismiss her and cancel her pension.
This is the most severe form of disciplinary punishment meted out against a state official to date.
The PACC also said it suspects Rojana did not act alone.
The commission is focusing on figures higher up the food chain to check if they were involved.
A ministry source said Rojana was fired without being investigated by a disciplinary panel because she admitted to the wrongdoing to her superiors and that the crime was apparent.
Mr Karun said evidence gathered by the authorities showed Rojana, who previously supervised the Sema Phatthana Chiwit Fund, had allegedly siphoned off at least B100 million from the fund and had transferred the money to 22 bank accounts of relatives and friends since 2007.
It was reported last week that Rojana had a hand in embezzling B88mn from the fund during the period specified by Mr Karun.
The figure was based on a trove of documents, including what are believed to be forged receipts, that were seized from Rojana’s home in Don Muang district during a raid last week.
On Sunday (Mar 25), the ministry said a further B30mn was missing from the fund.
A source there said they suspected at least part of the money may have been taken by Rojana but that the matter required further investigation.
Each year the fund receives a budget of between B10mn and B30mn.
The ministry determined that the sacked official had broken state regulations, committed dereliction of duty causing extensive damage to the state, and engaged in corruption.
Rojana is now facing criminal charges of embezzlement, malfeasance, falsifying documents, falsely certifying documents and dereliction of duty.
Mr Karun said the ministry was informed that the PACC and Amlo have collected sufficient evidence before submitting the case to prosecutors.
“The Education Ministry is also proceeding with a fact-finding probe to identify other people in the network,” the permanent secretary said.
Although the dismissal takes immediate effect, Rojana has the right to appeal within 30 days, Mr Karun said.
Meanwhile, Amlo was examining a money trail linked to her in the hope of unearthing more clues in connection with the Sema Phatthana Chiwit Fund embezzlement scandal.
Amlo expects to conclude its findings within a month.
Witthaya Netitham, the Amlo secretary, said the authorities were sifting through all transaction details involving the aforementioned 22 bank accounts.
Ministerial inspector Atthapol Truektrong, speaking in his capacity as chairman of the ministry’s fact-finding panel probing the case, said last week that evidence of corruption was found “literally everywhere” the ministry looked in relation to the case.
The investigation picked up pace following a search of Rojana’s home on Song Prapha Rd in Don Muang district last week.
Security officials seized documents there thought to contain proof of embezzlement.
Mr Witthaya said the criminal investigation into Rojana was making progress.
Mr Witthaya also said Amlo found money in the accounts was withdrawn at the beginning of last month. The office is now looking into where it went.
Money laundering can result in up to 10 years’ jail time in Thailand. Rojana is accused of having committed the same offence repeatedly.
Siripong Sritula, director of the PACC’s Bureau of Suppression of Corruption in Public Sector 2, said the priority was now to find out whether more senior officials were involved.
Lt Col Siripong said Rojana was cooperating, but that it could take some time before she discloses everything and the whole case is brought to light.
The inquiry sub-panel appointed by the PACC is sorting out the evidence seized so far. Investigators now know the identity of the people in whose names the 22 bank accounts were opened.
It should not be difficult to track down the misappropriated money, they added.
Also yesterday, the Office of the National Primary Education Commission (Onpec) said it has launched two fact-finding teams to probe reports by the local education office that a private school in Kanchaburi was using names of newborn babies, including those at a daycare centre, to fill a form it submitted to the commission seeking details of financial subsidies.
Onpec deputy secretary-general Chalam Thathatham said the teams had gone to the school to find more information.
At this stage, the commission is treating the case as “suspicious”.
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