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May 2024

Phumtham threatens to sue critic of 10-year-old rice

Commerce minister says comments ‘fake’ as ex-Democrat MP raises concerns about safety of old rice

Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai threatened a former Democrat MP with legal action if he did not stop making “false allegations” about the rice stored for 10 years.

Phumtham, who also doubles as deputy prime minister, said on Tuesday that if Warong Dechgitvigrom did not stop making comments on the 15,000 tonnes of jasmine rice stored in two warehouses in Surin, he would ask relevant government agencies to take legal action against him.

The rice was stockpiled as part of the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s rice-pledging scheme.

Warong, who now chairs the Thai Pakdee Party, had exposed corruption in the scheme, and after Yingluck’s government was toppled in a 2014 military coup, she and several of her Cabinet members were charged with corruption and malfeasance related to the scheme.

Yingluck was sentenced in absentia to five years in jail for failing to stop a fake, corruption-plagued government-to-government rice deal under her administration’s rice-pledging scheme.

After Phumtham led a team of reporters, rice traders and exporters to the two warehouses and ate the rice in front of them to prove it was safe, Warong accused the minister of trying to whitewash Yingluck.

He alleged that the rice Phumtham ate may have been perfectly good rice disguised to look like the rice bought by the Yingluck government 10 years ago.

Yet, Phumtham insisted that the rice he ate came from the two warehouses.

“Warong’s claims are tantamount to uploading false information onto a computer system and it is illegal. If he doesn’t stop, I’ll ask the agencies concerned to take appropriate action,” Phumtham said.

Warong had said earlier that if the rice had been stored for 10 years, it would be too rotten to consume let alone sell.

Phumtham said Warong should stop demeaning the value of the rice, which has become the state’s “asset”. He added that he will go ahead with his plan to auction off the rice, and if it does get sold then Warong should take responsibility for his comments.

Apart from Warong, several academics have also voiced concern that the rice may be infested with fungus and germs, as well as contaminated with chemicals used to preserve rice.

Phumtham, meanwhile, has insisted that the chemical used to preserve the rice was not hazardous and would not cause cancer as feared. He said the rice would be polished and the process would later eliminate the chemical.

He added that he would not send a sample of the rice to be tested by the Medical Sciences Department before the auction, but if the department wants to check the rice, it can do so after it has been auctioned.

The minister added that he would not allow non-authorised persons to test the rice, but if they want to check the quality and safety of the rice, they can file a petition with the agencies concerned.

Though sounding angry while speaking to reporters, Phumtham said: “I’m not angry, but have quite strong feelings.” He was asked if he was annoyed by the critics of his plan to sell the 10-year-old rice. QR Code

Published Date: May 14, 2024

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