Thai official in plagiarism dispute found guilty of forgery

Thailand's reputation for academic integrity could be affected by the plagiarism dispute, say commentators Copyright: Flickr/Asiafruit

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[MANILA] A senior Thai official involved in a four-year-old dispute over academic plagiarism has been convicted of forgery by a court in Bangkok.

Earlier this month (8 August), the South Bangkok District Court gave Supachai Lorlowhakarn, director of Thailand’s National Innovation Agency (NIA), a suspended prison sentence and ordered him to pay a fine of 6,000 baht (US$191), after finding him guilty of criminal forgery.

Supachai had been sued by Wyn Ellis, a British agricultural consultant based in Thailand, for allegedly altering Ellis’s contract — as a consultant to NIA in 2006-2007 — after the document had been signed, and in a way that Ellis claimed appeared to downplay his role and responsibilities at the agency.

The court decision came two months after Chulalongkorn University revoked Supachai’s PhD degree on charges of gross plagiarism in his thesis. The plagiarism complaint had been filed by Ellis himself, who claimed Supachai had copied significant portions of Ellis’s research and used them in his thesis.

The entire affair has placed the country’s academic and scientific credibility under scrutiny, as Supachai continues to head the government agency responsible for protecting and promoting intellectual property.

Kanit Wattanavichien, associate professor at Chulalongkorn’s mechanical engineering department, said that he welcomed both the court verdict and Chulalongkorn University’s decision.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Kanit, who once served as adviser to the science ministry, said that any official who was responsible for the country’s intellectual property management needed to "respect the intellectual property of others".

Ellis also welcomed the court’s verdict, but declined to comment further.

But the Thai Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), which oversees NIA, continues to support Supachai.

Pornchai Rujiprapa, the ministry’s permanent secretary, told the Thai language media that the plagiarism issue was a "personal matter" and that the charges against Supachai were unrelated to the performance of his duties as NIA director.

Ellis discovered changes in the contracts when Supachai filed criminal defamation charges against Ellis in October 2008, in relation to Ellis’s allegations of plagiarism.

Supachai presented as court evidence copies of Ellis’s NIA employment contracts, job description and proposal documents.

Ellis claimed that these had all been systematically altered to remove key responsibilities and to reduce the term of his final contract with NIA from six months to three months.