Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bribery scandal hits Bangkok International Film Festival

A Hollywood producer and his wife have been arrested in Los Angeles, with a US Justice Department statement saying the couple paid more than US$1.7 million in bribes in order to obtain contracts from a Thai government agency to run the Bangkok International Film Festival, a deal worth $10 million.

Gerald Green, 75, and his wife Patricia, 52, were arrested after a criminal complaint was filed in federal court in Los Angeles on December 7. The arrest was announced by the Justice Department yesterday.

The Greens owned and operated Film Festival Management, a Los Angeles-based company that was formed in 2003 specifically to bid for the management contract for the Bangkok International Film Festival, a deal that would bring in $10 million.

From the US Justice Department press release:

The complaint alleges that from 2003 and continuing into 2007, the Greens conspired with others to bribe a senior Thai government official who was, at the time, the president of the BKKIFF and the governor of the TAT. As a result of her position at the TAT, the Governor was able to influence the awarding of the BKKIFF contracts as well as other TAT contracts. More than $1.7 million in payments were allegedly made for the benefit of the Governor.

The press release does not name the governor, who, up until last year, was Juthamas Siriwan.

"I don't know about that at all. I have no knowledge about this," Juthamas was quoted as saying by Reuters, though she confirmed that during her time as governor, the Greens had worked for the TAT, which oversaw the staging of the Bangkok International Film Festival.

"I want to talk to the arrested couple first before saying anything," Juthamas was quoted as saying by The Nation.

Furthermore, she says she will sue the US Justice Department if it linked her to the case.

"All the procedures involving the case had been done according to the regulations and with fairness and transparence to all agencies concerned. TAT had set up a panel to handle the process," she was quoted as saying at a press conference.

Juthamas is running for Parliament in Sunday's general election under the Peua Pandin banner.

The US government says the Greens set up dummy businesses in order to conceal the large amount of money being received from the TAT, and to make the "commission" payments to the TAT governor through the foreign bank accounts of intermediaries. Acting on evidence supplied by two confidential witnesses, the Greens were arrested by federal authorities on violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all charges, the press release said.

Gerald Green is a producer of such films as Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn, which was filmed last year in Thailand. He is the president of Viridian Entertainment, a production company for The Rape of Nangking, an upcoming film based on Iris Chang's book.

The Bangkok International Film Festival cancelled its contract with Film Festival Management late last year, after the Tourism Authority of Thailand had its budget slashed by the post-coup, military-appointed government. The festival, originally set for January 2007, was then postponed to July.

Management of the festival has since been transferred to the Department of Export Promotion, and its future is uncertain.

More information:
(Photo credit: Via AFP; from left, TAT governor Juthamas Siriwan, actor Michael Douglas, Patricia and Gerald Green of Film Festival Management, Inc., and director Joel Schumacher at a private dinner at the 2005 Bangkok International Film Festival.)

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