The fish smell is pungent.
As the Bangkok Post explains so well, the “military regime is rushing into ‘damage-control mode’ to protect key member Gen Udomdej Sitabutr from becoming embroiled in the scandal surrounding the construction of Rajabhakti Park.”
The junta is protecting General Udomdej, its deputy defence minister and junta member and former Army commander and chairman of the committee that oversaw the 1 billion baht project.
The Post’s story claims that the junta wants to protect Udomdej because part of The Dictator’s justification for seizing power and staying on and on is that one of the regime’s “priorities is to tackle corruption” and that any whiff of it involving a junta member makes the whole junta smell.
We don’t buy this line. For one thing, many junta members, including General Prayuth Chan-ocha, are unusually wealthy and have never explained how it is that state officials accumulate so much personal wealth.
According to one of his assets declarations, Prayuth’s wealth includes:
… 128.6 million baht ($3.9 million) in assets and 654,745 baht ($20,000) in liabilities. … He also reported the transfer of 466.5 million baht ($14.3 million) to other family members.
… His assets include a Mercedes Benz S600L car, a BMW 740Li Series sedan, luxury watches, rings and several pistols.
How can that be?
A second reason we don’t buy the claim is because the military is a hierarchical club arranged a bit like a mafia family, and they stick together. They tend only to abandon family members when there are territorial disputes. So they protect each other for the most part.
Yet Udomdej is clearly approaching a situation where he might have to face the military equivalent of baseball bats. We are thinking of a lese majeste charge or perhaps a suicide in detention.
But protect they will, until they have no option. So the story is that Udomdej “unwittingly gave his subordinates all the responsibility [to run the project] without realising the impacts that could follow.” So the blame is to be attached to “subordinates.” It’s the “I’m so sorry, but my wife has made a mistake!” excuse.
For the moment, his “wife” is Col Khachachart Boondee, who is charged with lese majeste and who has fled the country. Leaks from the Army’s “investigation” and from police are that there were “alleged irregularities in the purchase of T-shirts for the Rajabhakti Bike & Concert event held on Sept 12 in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district.” About 6 million baht was skimmed, allegedly by Col Khachachart Boondee and said to be “Gen Udomdej’s close aide.”
As we already know, Col Khachachart was “dismissed from the army, [and] is said to have fled across the border into Myanmar…”. It is also alleged that the colonel was a kind of bagman, collecting money as “commissions” from those making the giant king statues for the park. Remember that he was “Gen Udomdej’s close aide.”
General Udomdej is clearly in trouble, but scratch any top military commander and there’s dirt. One of the reasons to be in the military (and police) is to become powerful and wealthy, and the whole hierarchy is organized to provide wealth, privilege and power to those at the top. Those who scoop up the illicit funds justify it as their just reward for protecting Thailand’s royalist power structure.