36 Thai senators indicted over charter amendment

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's state anti-corruption body on Tuesday indicted 36 senators for alleged misconduct in attempting to amend the constitution to make the Senate fully elected, which a court ruled was unconstitutional last year.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission found the senators had "misused their authority in violation of the constitution" and will forward the case to the Senate, commission Secretary-General Sansern Poljiak said.

The 36 senators will be suspended from their jobs while the Senate decides whether to impeach them, although most will be replaced by recently elected lawmakers next month.

The indictment is the latest in a series of legal challenges that caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai party-led government have been battling since the lower house was dissolved in December.

The cases are nearing decisions after several months of anti-government protests demanding Yingluck's resignation on grounds that she is allegedly corrupt and is serving as a proxy for her brother, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The indicted senators were among 308 current and former lawmakers charged by the anti-graft body for voting last year for a bill that would have changed the composition of the 150-member Senate, about half of which is appointed. The commission had previously indicted the House and the Senate speakers on charges of mishandling the parliamentary meetings on the charter amendment.

The bill was passed by the ruling party-controlled Parliament but was struck down by the Constitutional Court in November.

The anti-graft commission is also handling a probe of Yingluck that accuses her of failing to stop corruption and prevent huge losses in her administration's flagship rice subsidy scheme. If the commission indicts Yingluck on charges of dereliction of duty, the case would be forwarded to the Senate, which would vote on whether to impeach her.

The commission is one of several nominally independent agencies which belong to the executive branch but function outside the Cabinet's authority. It has powers to investigate and prosecute elected politicians and civil servants.