On 26 September 2015, it was reported that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn had officially opened the Army’s Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin, “built to honour past Thai monarchs.” Well, some of them, including the current one.
Variously said to have cost between 700 million and one billion baht, the show of loyalty by the military, it has been seen as marking the gradual transition to the prince’s reign.
In a footnote to our post at the time, PPT wondered what the superstitious military leadership made of the damage done to one of the statues as it was transported to the park. We said that it must be viewed as a dark omen. It seems there was something in that poking of fun at the feudal attitudes of the current military junta. We are sure that several of them, having incarcerated a “powerful” soothsayer and seen shooting stars over Bangkok are shaking in their Gucci boots and shoes, fearing divine retribution.
It may be coming. Stories related to the current lese majeste debacle have military men linked to corruption over the park’s construction. Everyone knows that corruption via commissions in construction projects is simply the norm in Thailand, with demands of 30% to 75% of construction costs not being unusual. There’s little doubt that military construction and procurement projects engage in these activities, with bribes considered commissions.
Yesterday, the media was reporting connections between the lese majeste debacle and the park’s construction, saying the case is under investigation by the Central Investigation Bureau. It is reported that “CIB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nonghanpitak has instructed police investigators assigned to the lese majeste case to look for evidence of irregularities and corruption in the Ratchapakdi Park project.”
This saw police investigators sent off to “several provinces where the casting factories that built statues of Thailand’s kings for the park are located…”.
The park story is also linked to media speculation regarding a rift between Army boss General Theerachai Nakawanich and his predecessor General Udomdej Sitabutr, a deputy minister in the junta. Udomdej launched the project.
With reports of commissions being requested for the royal park surfacing in some media, the Army sought to stifle the speculation. It declared that nothing was amiss and “ruled out possible corruption in the construction of Rajabhakti Park…”. Getting its story straight has been a problem for the military dictatorship.
The military officers named in the skimming were said to have been those mentioned in reports about a major general and colonel, linked to the lese majeste-cum-extortion cases involving Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and others.
Junta spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree was resolute and emphatic, saying “the reports … were entirely false.” He added, equally emphatically: “According to the latest information from the police, there were no corruption allegations, especially in the construction. It fully followed the bureaucratic model with full transparency in every step. So it’s extremely difficult that anyone could have done so…”.
The media repeatedly reports on the officers involved:
Col Winthai apparently was referring to Col Kachachart Boondee of the 3rd Army Region, who is said to have illegally crossed into Myanmar from Mae Hong Song on Nov 1. Thai authorities have already asked Myanmar to deport him.
Col Kachachart, a former aide to ex-army chief Udomdej Sitabutr, was promoted to deputy commander of the 11th Circle Army by Gen Udomdej shortly before Gen Udomdej retired on Sept 30.
However, when Gen Theerachai Nakvanich took over as army chief, he transferred Col Kachachart back to the 3rd Army Region as chief of staff on Oct 5.
The police have now hit back at the Army and the junta, stating that “operators of two casting factories contracted to build statues for the army’s Ratchapakdi Park project have told police they were asked to pay commission fees…”.
A source in the investigation team said the owner of a Bangkok factory:
… was approached … by a businessman in league with an army colonel, [and] agreed to cast the statues for 42 million baht…. But the factory received only 30 million baht for the job, while the remaining 12 million baht would allegedly go to the businessman, who offered to be responsible for the four million baht in value added tax and keep the rest as commission….
The other factory owner told police he was approached by the same businessman in October last year and they agreed on 44 million baht with an army officer acting as a coordinator. He told police the businessman demanded a 10% commission fee and he agreed to pay, police said.
We can hardly wait for the next Army and junta denial.