Thai ICT ministry says True 3G deal illegal

Don Sambandaraksa
20 Mar 2012

Following on from an earlier senate report that said the convoluted 3G deal between Thailand's TrueMove H and state-owned CAT violated the law, the ICT Ministry has also concluded that the deal is “definitely illegal.”

The announcement comes after a committee set up by the ICT Ministry came to the conclusion, though full details would be made public next week.

ICT Minister Anudith Nakornthap has said that nobody can lobby him into giving up on the investigation.

From when it was first signed academics - most vocally Thailand Development and Research Institute Vice President Somkiat Tangkitvanich - slammed the 14-year deal. Critics said it was a new concession in all but name.

Another objection was that the deal was deviously sliced up into numerous contracts to avoid scrutiny and hitting a one-billion-baht line whereby contracts would have to go for Cabinet and Ministry of Finance approval. The critics claim this approval wouldn't have been received had anyone had a chance to read the contracts.

Tangkitvanich pointed out that True was supplying the network to CAT on the one hand (through subsidiary BFKT), then pretending to be just an MVNO on the other side (through subsidiary Real Move). He said this left CAT to be simply a rent collector, something that the new Frequency Allocation Act prohibited. True also dictates network roll-out speed and capacity, not CAT.

He also questioned why CAT needed to pay True 3 billion baht ($97.6 million) to buy back and dispose of 1,400 old CDMA base stations which already belonged to CAT.

More recently, a senate investigation concluded that the deal was illegal in three respects and has forwarded the matter to the National Counter Corruption Commission to move against CAT and possibly the ICT Ministry.

In the wider scheme of things, it may be a case of party politics. TrueMove’s owners - the Chearavanont family - are strongly linked to the Democrat party and were the party’s largest donors in the most recent list of 2010-2011.

After coming to power, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s cabinet has authorised a number of questionable deals favouring True, most notably removing a ban on advertising for TrueVision’s pay TV channels and the said TrueMove 3G deal.

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