Saturday, August 29, 2009

'This case is about greed, it's about corruption and it's about deceit'

The trial of Hollywood producer couple Gerald and Patricia Green began in Los Angeles this week. The pair are charged with violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and accused of bribing a Thai government official in exchange for being granted several management contracts, among them the running of the Bangkok International Film Festival.

Prosecutors say that from 2004 to 2006, the Greens created shell companies to funnel US$1.8 million to the then-governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Juthamas Siriwan. The money was transferred into bank accounts held by Juthamas' daughter and a friend. The deal netted the Greens $13.5 million worth of contracts, the prosecutors say.

The FCPA Blog is on the case. Here's a choice snip, sourced from AP's coverage of the trial:

This case is about greed, it's about corruption and it's about deceit," [Jonathan Lopez, a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice] told the seven man-five woman jury. The Greens "turned TAT into their own personal piggy bank."

That's the kind of stuff that gets the folks back home all excited, and the Bangkok Post ran the story on the front page on Thursday.

In the Greens' defense, attorneys have said that husband-and-wife Hollywood players turned a struggling film festival "into a rising star on the international circuit ... attracting the likes of Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irons and director Oliver Stone to Thailand". From an earlier AP article:

The Greens' lawyers said they never paid to get the contracts.

"They got the contracts because they did good work," said Jerome Mooney, Gerald Green's lawyer. "They entered into consulting agreements with those who had connections with powerful people."

Mooney made similar statements to The Wrap ahead of the trial.

Meanwhile, Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission is apparently getting serious about taking up the case, and is probing for angles of attack. The Bangkok Post has a story today saying the NACC "would consider looking into tax evasion", that is if the "commission fees" are taxable.

Here's the part of the article that caused my brow to furrow:

[NACC commissioner Vicha Mahakhun] said the US court earlier invited him to testify as witness in the couple's trial. The US had found that a manager of the American couple had set up a company to handle the money transfers to the bank account of the "daughter of a certain senior TAT official".

However, he decided not to testify to the court after US prosecutors informed him they were sure that Thailand has a law through which tax evasion charges could be pursued in connection with the bribery case.

Thanks for the tip, you U.S. prosecutors!

The timing of the Greens' trial is awful. The Bangkok International Film Festival brand is being shellacked with the negativity brush just as this year's edition from September 24 to 30 is ready to roll and titles are being announced. While the programming division of the fest has landed dozens of great films, that's not enough for another faction of festival-makers, who are leaning right into the punch, picking "Old Hollywood Glamour" as the theme with plans for welcoming banquets, fancy parties, red-carpet galas and invited celebrities. I know there's people who think all that is fun and generates publicity for the festival and Thailand's film industry, but how much money does it cost and is it really worth it?

The Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee says as much in an article in yesterday's Real Time section. He also shares memories of the heady years when the Greens and Juthamas were running things:

Some of the most perplexing anecdotes from those years was when an old couple -- who had nothing to do with the film profession but happened to be neighbours of the American team -- were flown in first class to Bangkok so they could tour the City of Angels. I also met a construction worker who came here as a "film writer" (he admitted to me he wasn't writing for any publication in the whole world; just a movie fan and friend of the organiser) along with his wife, again on business class. There were many more cases that would make Thai taxpayers' blood boil. When the American team left, the feeling was like that of the natives watching a conquistador leaving the "Third World" with the loot of Aztec gold.

Kong suggests that festival-goers keep one eye on the movies and the other covered up so as not to notice the champagne-and-tuxedo set, or the headlines from the L.A. bribery trial. I like to try and keep both eyes open, and locked on that big screen. But sometimes off to the side I catch sight of something, and like a bad car wreck, it's difficult to turn away and not look.

(Bangkok Post cartoon from 2007 via

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