Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thailand's Crime Suppression Division probes missing Orient Thai 747 jet engines

CSD probes 4 missing Orient Thai aircraft engines

The Crime Suppression Division is investigating the disappearance of four aircraft engines from Phitsanulok airport amid suspicions they may have been sold as part of a tax-evasion scheme.
Officers from the Crime Suppression Division inspect a disused Boeing 747 jet. The CSD suspects the plane’s engines have been removed and sold illegally, but this was denied by the owner, Orient Thai Airways. CHINNAWAT SINGHA
The engines, as well as other major aircraft parts, disappeared from two decommissioned Boeing 747s belonging to Orient Thai Airways parked at the domestic airport.
An initial inspection by CSD police found the aircraft had also been externally repainted, rendering their countries of origin and numbers unidentifiable.
Airport director Kasem Intasorn told police Orient Thai Airways rented docking space at Phitsanulok.
The budget airline operator reasoned it could not afford space for the two Boeing planes at Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi airport.
The CSD is examining documents to see whether Orient Thai Airways parked the planes for maintenance.
"Officers have not yet charged anybody. We're interrogating the relevant parties," said deputy CSD chief Prasobchok Prommun after appointing investigators to inspect the two jets on Monday evening. However, he said, police initially believed that the engines might have been removed for resale. A single main engine can fetch up to 26 million baht.
The two aircraft were inspected after a police informant reported that the planes might be involved in "illegal activities, especially tax evasion", according to a CSD press release.
However, Orient Thai chief executive Udom Tantiprasongchai denied the accusation. He admitted that the engines had been removed, but he said this was a usual practice for decommissioned planes.
The two engines in question had not been used for five or six years, he said. Mr Udom said the engines were now being kept at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport.
He added that the removal of the engines had been properly carried out as the company had to ask the relevant authorities for permission to transport such large airplane parts.
Orient Thai had rented the two Boeing planes for use in its domestic aviation business.
However, after the rental contract expired, the owner did not ask for them back, leaving the company to shoulder parking costs of nearly one million baht a year.
Mr Udom said the officers could seize the planes if they wanted to, or the company would be happy to give them away for free to any agencies or organisations which would like to exhibit them.
He suspected "someone might complain to police as a way to attack me", because a month earlier he had been told to pay taxes to the Customs Department for another decommissioned plane parked at U-tapao airport in Rayong, but he did not pay up.
Mr Udom said decommissioned aircraft are exempt from taxes.
He said someone had threatened in a phone call to turn the two airplanes into a "big issue".
"I was not scared because I had done nothing wrong," Mr Udom said.


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