Banana-throwing Thai leader on media warpath again

Bangkok: Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha once threw a banana peel at reporters and has threatened to “probably execute” those who did not tell the truth.

Now the former army chief, who holds sweeping dictatorial powers, is on the warpath again accusing journalists of stirring up controversy over an expensive watch and ring that his 72-year-old deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, was spotted wearing at a public relations event.

Photographs of Prawit’s Richard Mille watch, which is estimated to be worth up to $US500,000 ($660,000) and the diamond ring, have gone viral across Thailand’s social media.

And they have prompted questions about why the career military man failed to declare them in his list of assets, as required by Thailand’s anti-graft agency.

Prawit, who also serves as minister of defence, has not publicly explained how he could afford such expensive accessories.

The country’s National Anti-Corruption Commission is expecting a letter of explanation.

Only days after urging Thais not to tolerate corruption, Prayuth accused reporters of wanting to divide the country’s leadership that has ruled since toppling a democratically elected government in 2014, after months of political instability.

“If nobody is beside me, I will tell you, I will be fiercer. I will fully exercise my power,” he told reporters, adding questions about his deputy’s wealth would be dealt with in compliance of laws.

Thailand’s military-dominated government has restricted freedom of expression, censored media outlets, banned large public gatherings and prosecuted dozens of people under a draconian sedition law.

Prayuth partly justified seizing power in 2014 because of what he called endemic corruption in the government then led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who has fled Thailand after being convicted of negligence over a corruption-riddled rice subsidy scheme.

Just as the furore over Prawit’s accessories was erupting, Prayuth claimed his government had taken many steps to combat corruption, including improving laws and setting up anti-corruption networks.

“Thai people must reject and no longer tolerate any kind of corruption,” he said.

“Corruption is not an easy problem to solve but if all parties help one another to fight against it, I believe we can do it,” he said.

Last year Thailand was ranked the 101st worst country Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Prayuth has promised to restore democratic rule but deadlines for elections have been repeatedly pushed back.

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