Thailand continues BKKIFF probe

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BANGKOK -- Thailand's National Counter Corruption Commission will create a subcommittee to probe whether the former head of the Bangkok International Film Festival received nearly $2 million in kickbacks from 2003-06, an official with Thailand's Department of Special Investigations said Friday.

The DSI has examined evidence for more than a month and will send its recommendations to the NCCC on Monday or Tuesday. However, the findings would not be shared with the public, unless the NCCC believes there's enough solid evidence and recommends that the case be handled by the State Attorney's office, Col. Piyawat Kingket, chief of the DSI's Bureau for Special Crime Office, told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Thai government began looking into the matter after the FBI filed a 28-page affidavit in December to the U.S. Department of Justice. The documents claimed that the former BKKIFF head, Juthamas Siriwan, received $1.7 million in kickbacks from Los Angeles-based Film Festival Management, which ran the festival from 2003-06. Siriwan has maintained her innocence, and even threatened to sue the DOJ, though she has yet to file charges.

The FBI report was written in support of bringing corruption charges against Gerald and Patricia Green, the co-owners of FFM and co-producers of 2007's "Rescue Dawn," starring Christian Bale. The report claims that payments were deposited through wire transfers and cashier's checks into the bank accounts of Siriwan's daughter, held in Singapore, the U.K. and the Isle of Jersey.

During the time of the Greens' involvement in BKKIFF, the festival's operating budget was about $6 million annually, funded by Thai taxpayers, as the government's Tourist Authority of Thailand financed the festival. Last year, however, in the wake of the military coup that ousted the Thai government, Siriwan was replaced as the head of TAT and was no longer involved with the festival and FFM was not rehired. The 2007 festival was produced by TAT for about a third of previous budgets under Siriwan, though it lacked the star power of years past, when notable industry figures such as Oliver Stone, Catherine Deneuve and Joel Schumacher were flown in to be part of the event.

There is still a wild card: The first prime minister elected after the coup, Samak Sundaravej, suddenly replaced Thailand's DSI chief last week. Therefore, before the evidence about Siriwan is sent to the NCCC, the new DSI head will need to examine the report first, which may possibly have an effect on the matter.
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