Monarchy, Bahrain and a refugee

7 05 2019

Paul Sanderson at The Sydney Morning Herald has a long article on coronation. But it is not the shallow accounts that mark discussion of the monarchy mainly because Sanderson has a unique hook for the story:an account of why “refugee and footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was imprisoned for more than two months on a Bahraini Interpol red notice that should never have been issued…”.

From The Guardian

We won’t recount the quite useful discussion of the rise to power of the current king, but will briefly deal with the al-Araibi story as it interweaves with the death of Vajiralongkorn’s father in October 2016. Vajiralongkorn didn’t take the throne for about six weeks, although that is not what the “record of reign” now says.

Sanderson states:

Stories of what happened in the weeks and months that followed Bhumibol’s death are only now emerging, whispered quietly by government officials and senior diplomats who fear that speaking openly will transgress the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws.

He says “what they say could provide at least a partial explanation” of al-Araibi detention and asks: “Was it related to the new Thai king’s endeavours to consolidate his political and financial power?”

Regular readers may recall that monarchy was mentioned in our first post on al-Araibi’s detention, although there was no information on exactly what was going on at the time that gave special focus to this unfortunate man’s detention.

Sanderson is more specific, asking “what role did a $1.6 billion commercial deal between the royal houses of Bahrain and Thailand play?”

Noting Vajiralongkorn’s various grasping land property deals in Thailand, Sanderson observes that it was when “the old king was in a coma, that his heir negotiated a deal with the royal family of Bahrain that would earn him nearly $1.6 billion.” The deal saw “Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau sold a 60 per cent stake in the Kempinski Hotels Group for €1 billion to the Bahraini royal family.”

PPT earlier posted on the opaque deals that gave Kempinski to the CPB.

As Wikipedia has it, “Effective 16 February 2017, the two existing shareholders of Kempinski AG formalized previous plans for an equity transfer between them. The majority shares of Kempinski AG shall be held by the existing Bahraini shareholder while the shareholder from Thailand will now own a minority.”

This deal was more than a year before the footballer was snared at Bangkok’s main airport, but the business dealing between the two royal houses remains and Vajiralongkorn’s purse was swelled substantially by the deal.

This may help explain al-Araibi’s 76-day detention. As Sanderson states, “one of the biggest mysteries was why the south-east Asian kingdom persisted with the case to refoul him long after a wrongly issued Interpol red notice was revoked.”

Obviously, the Bahrain monarchy wanted him. But what was Thailand doing?

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only spoke in code. The country, it said, “finds itself in the middle of a case involving two countries competing for Mr Hakeem’s custody”. The ministry repeatedly stressed the case could not be dropped once it had started.

Thai Immigration Police chief Surachate Hakparn was a little clearer. He said the order to keep Araibi in detention came from “above”. He has since been removed from his post. Rumours abound that he offended the king in another matter.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former diplomat, puts it this way:

It’s not just about feeling Thailand owes Bahrain…. This is beyond skin deep because it’s between two royal families. The Thai king is in the process of wanting to be respected by other royal families. Being a diplomat in Thailand, the number one priority is not about maintaining good relationships. The number one priority is about making sure you serve the royal family…. This royal family travels. Fifty per cent of our operation [in the Foreign Ministry] is about the monarchy, we have to serve the monarchy before anything else.

Kempinski remains a private company and little public information is available. However, published data continues to list two Thai members of its supervisory board are from royal agencies.

Other relations between royals in each country are topics of speculation. It is stated that “a senior Bahraini royal was in Thailand in the days after Araibi’s arrest.” It remains unclear how the relationships between countries and between royal houses has been impacted by al-Araibi’s case.


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11 09 2020
The king and his antics II | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] *For discussions that reflect changes in ownership, see here and here. […]




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