Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hollywood producers found guilty in Bangkok film festival bribery case

A Hollywood producer couple accused of paying bribes to a Thai government official in order to obtain contracts to run the Bangkok International Film Festival have been found guilty.

In a verdict announced on Monday in Los Angeles, Gerald and Patricia Green were convicted of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, conspiracy and money laundering. Patricia Green was additionally found guilty of tax evasion.

Stories are at The Wrap, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and PR Newswire via Reuters.

Federal prosecutors said the Greens paid US$1.8 million in bribes to a Thai government official the prosecutors have identified as Juthamas Siriwan, former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and former head of the Bangkok International Film Festival. The contracts they obtained for the film festival and other TAT projects were worth around $14 million.

The verdict in the 2 1/2-week trial was reached late Friday by the jury after one day of deliberations.

It comes just a little over a week ahead of this year's edition of the Bangkok International Film Festival, which, perhaps ironically, has a theme of "Old Hollywood Glamour."

According to the Los Angeles Times' Company Town blog, the Greens worked on the festival's first edition in 2003.

That was the first year for the festival, which was co-organized by Nation Multimedia and the TAT under Juthamas. The Nation then split from the TAT and organized its own fest, the World Film Festival of Bangkok, later that very same year.

The Greens set up Film Festival Management and ran the Bangkok International Film Festival from 2004 to 2006. After a military coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his political allies including Jutamas were removed from office. Under the junta, the film festival's budget was slashed and the contract with the Greens was broken. The Greens were hit with the federal charges in December 2007, right at the same time Juthamas was making run for political office as deputy leader of the Puea Pandin Party in an election to replace the military-appointed government. She stepped down from the party but denied all allegations.

Sentencing is set for December 17. The Greens could face up to 20 years in prison.

Attorneys for Gerald, 77, and Patricia, 52, both say they are likely to appeal.

Here's more from the LA Times blog:

To me it’s a case of circumstantial evidence," said Marilyn Bednarski, who represented Patricia Green. She added that "the people of Thailand were not victimized in any way" because the Greens provided "top notch services" for the festival.

[Prosecuting assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce H. Searby] strongly disagreed, however. "There is no more concrete type of harm to the Thai people than taking money out of their treasury and sending it on a round trip through L.A. back to a government official," he said.

So far no charges have been pressed against Juthamas, the Bangkok Post reported last week.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission has coordinated closely with US prosecutors, and the panel is to meet on September 16 to start its inquiry, the Post said.

So the question is, as Bangkok Pundit and film-industry pundit Scott Rosenberg have raised, with the Greens found guilty, how will Thai authorities proceed?

Update: The Bangkok Post has a story. A snip:

More to the point, it could open an investigation and possible charges against Juthamas Siriwan, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand at the time the Greens bribed and connived their way into control of the BIFF.

Mrs Juthamas has denied any involvement. But it may be difficult now for the National Anti-Corruption Commission to ignore the conviction of the Greens for sending her bribes of $1.8 million, or about 72 million baht at the time.

To the point indeed.

Update 2: The Nation has a story. Here's key quote from Methee Kongkaew, commissioner of the National Anti-Corruption Commission:

Initially, what we received from the Federal Bureau of Investigation is clear, particularly the financial transactions completed overseas. As we have no access to the documents, they hold significant weight in concluding this case," Methee said. He noted that if the NACC needs more information, the Office of Attorney-General would be requested to coordinate with US officials.

Methee noted that aside from the bribery case, Juthamas and a deputy governor was also accused of abuse of power.

(Via Film Production)

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