BANGKOK (THAILAND) – A banned Thai opposition politician, who had criticised the government on it’s COVID vaccine strategy, continued to defend his claim. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has been slapped with complaint of defaming the monarchy for stating that the Thai government’s coronavirus vaccine strategy relies on a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Earlier this week he had accused the government of mishandling the vaccine campaign, saying it was too reliant on Siam Bioscience and that it will be slow to protect the public because of its failure to negotiate multiple deals.
Siam Bioscience is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages tens of billions of dollars in investment under the king’s personal control. It received a 600 million baht ($20 million) government subsidy to develop its production capacity, agreed in October to manufacture AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine and supply it domestically and across Southeast Asia.
Thanathorn had alleged the AstraZeneca deal lacked transparency and Siam Bioscience was given an unfair advantage over other companies.
Thailand has so far recorded just 12,795 infections and 71 deaths from COVID-19. Its Food and Drug Administration has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use, said sources.
On Wednesday, the government lodged a criminal complaint against Thanathorn for his criticism, accusing him of royal insult that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Thanathorn denied making allegations of the king’s involvement in the vaccine deal and said the government’s complaint was politically motivated to silence him.
“I questioned whether the scheme benefited one single company or not. It just happened that the shareholder of the company is the king himself,” he told in an interview.
A government spokeswoman, Ratchada Dhanadirek, has denied the prosecution was politically motivated.
An AstraZeneca spokesman said the firm had an established network of partners to deliver doses as quickly as possible.
“All manufacturing partners are subject to compliance with the international Current Good Manufacturing Practices,” the spokesman said, referring to regulatory standards.