By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK (TrustLaw) - A Thai deputy prime minister condoned cops demanding cash for the Chinese New Year - a practice he says he could not possibly ban because it is traditional.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung - a former policeman whose son emerged unscathed from a murder trial - told reporters that he could never stop ethnic Chinese Thais giving police the traditional red “ang pao” envelopes of money.
“If they want to give ang pao, it is not wrong… If police pass by, they call them in to pick it up,” Chalerm told reporters outside Government House on Tuesday.
“Even if I were born again as deputy prime minister another hundred times, I would not be able to fix it because most Chinese offer it themselves,” he said, noting that the money gifts had been the norm even when he was a trainee policeman 40 years ago. “Asking for ang pao is not a serious crime. This would be called inappropriate, but not wrong.”
The issue arose after policemen in central Bangkok were caught on a security camera demanding a bribe. This, Chalerm said, was indeed wrong.
“Why would they ask them?” he said. “Chinese New Year is for Chinese people. They went to ask Indians - not smart. They went to the wrong place.”
Thailand is rife with corruption, and bribery is common, with police, politicians and family members who are charged with crimes usually getting off lightly, benefiting from a culture of impunity that infuriates ordinary Thais.
In one such case Chalerm’s son, Duang Yubamrung, was acquitted in 2004 of shooting dead a policeman in a packed nightclub because of insufficient evidence.
Sitting in the cabinet alongside Chalerm is Culture Minister Sonthaya Khumploem, whose father was rearrested last month after fleeing following his murder conviction in 2004. Somchai Khunploem, a politician and businessman in eastern Chonburi province, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for masterminding the murder of a rival politician.