BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s opposition called on Tuesday for a cabinet member and prominent ruling party figure to clear his name after Australian media reported that he had been jailed for four years on a drugs charge in Australia in the 1990s.
Deputy agriculture minister Thammanat Prompao dismissed the report by two Australian newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. Thammanat has previously said that he received a minor conviction in Australia in the 1990s.
Thammanat has described himself as “the main artery” in Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government and was a key player in forging the former junta leader’s 17-party coalition after elections in March.
The Australian papers said that Thammanat had been jailed for four years for drug trafficking, citing court documents and old newspaper reports.
“This is a major allegation and if Thammanat cannot clear his name then he should resign from the cabinet and parliament,” Adisorn Piengkes, spokesman for a seven-party opposition alliance called the Democratic Front told Reuters.
“The prime minister should also take responsibility for appointing him to the cabinet,” he said.
Thammanat rejected calls for his resignation and accused his political opponents of planting the story in the Australian media to discredit him.
“I did not commit the wrongdoings as written,” Thammanat told reporters.
Prayuth defended the decision to appoint Thammanat to the cabinet, saying: “He is here today after his qualifications were verified.”
Before he was appointed to the cabinet, Thammanat had said that he received a minor conviction in Australia in 1993 because he was “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
A spokesperson for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, both owned by Nine Entertainment, said the papers stood by the story.
Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK, and John Mair in SYDNEY; Editing by Robert Birsel