Army impunity

24 01 2021

The impunity enjoyed by officials has a long history in Thailand but it is undeniable that it has expanded and deepened since the the 2006 military coup. Under the current regime there is essentially zero accountability for officials. Sure, there are occasional “crackdowns” and the odd prosecution, but the rule that officials can get away with stuff – even murder – holds.

In a Bangkok Post editorial, questions are raised about the Royal Thai Army, which celebrated “its strength and solidarity” on Armed Forces Day.

The editorial asks the public to “keep in mind that military officials still owe a few explanations on its pledge to reform, following several cases, including the Korat mass shooting last year that left a huge stain on its image.”

Clipped from Khaosod

It points out that on 8-9 February 2020, a disgruntled soldier “shot and killed 29 innocent people and wounded 57 others in Nakhon Ratchasima…”. The killer’s problem was “a property dispute” with “the soldier’s senior officer and his mother-in-law…”. In other words, “the army’s side dealings [were]… the root cause.” It adds that “analysts” say that “some army officers enter into private business dealings — and it’s an open secret.”

A few days later, “then army chief Apirat Kongsompong promised to investigate the problem…”. In fact, he did nothing to change the underlying situation. Indeed, this corruption continues. The Post mentions an alleged “illegal allocation of over 70,000 rai of forest land in Nakhon Ratchasima for a real estate project involving senior army officers.”

Yes, the very same province as the mass shooting. The Post adds that there “have been no reports of an investigation, let alone progress and punishment of culprits.”

The Post then recalls the unexplained death of a military conscript – there’s been more than one case – and asks: “How can the RTA restore public trust when it is entrenched in scandals? Why should the public trust a force of armed men who can barely be transparent in their affairs?”

How many times have we heard such pleading. In fact, it is as many times as reform has been rejected by the military as the Army maintains it impunity and its control.

We should note that the Post editorial mistakenly states that the Korat shooting “is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the kingdom’s history.” This mistake reflects some big omissions.

The biggest is the murder of almost a hundred red shirts and bystanders in April and May 2010. Who has been held accountable? No one from the Army.

Who killed protesters in 1992? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters at Thammasat University on 6 October 1976? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered civilian protesters on 14 October 1973? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

Who murdered people at Kru Se in 2004 and Tak Bai the same year? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

What about the enforced disappearances of activists and unexplained murder of civilians like Chaiyapoom Pasae? Who was held accountable? No one from the Army or police.

The list could go on and on and on.





Wealth and impunity

30 09 2019

Fugitives from justice were mentioned by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha in his inept talk at the Asia Society. He only means Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. But there’s also the long story of billionaire fugitive Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya that The Dictator ignores.

In a story for The Walrus, Martha Mendoza recalls how the rich get away with murder.

It was back in early September 2012, when playboy Vorayuth “roared his Ferrari down Sukhumvit Road” and “slammed into motorcycle cop Sergeant Major Wichean Glanprasert, dragging the officer, along with his tangled bike, down the block.” Vorayuth fled the scene and hid in a family compound. His family have accumulated a wealth of more than$13 billion through their Red Bull enterprises and by hoovering up all kinds of other investments that almost magically fall into the copious laps of the tycoons in Bangkok.

Party time for Boss (clipped from The Daily Mail)

Police followed a trail to the family mansion but were initially denied entry. The family tried to have a chauffeur take the blame, “but Boss later admitted to being the one behind the wheel.” He turned himself in, was granted bail and fled the scene again. So far none of the court cases have gone anywhere as Vorayuth is “unavailable.” The police, government and the family’s friends seem unconcerned. No one is held responsible for the death. Boss lives the high life with impunity.

Having set the scene, we just cut-and-paste from Mendoza’s excellent story:

… Within weeks of the incident, Boss was back to enjoying his family’s jet-set lifestyle: he flew around the world on private Red Bull jets, cheered the company’s Formula One racing team from Red Bull’s VIP seats, and kept a shiny black Porsche Carrera in London with custom licence plates—B055 RBR, or Boss Red Bull racing.

… Boss is reported to have at least two passports and a complex network of offshore accounts, and with these tools, he’s able to travel the world with impunity. More than 120 photos posted on Facebook and Instagram, as well as some racing blogs, show Boss visiting at least nine countries…. He’s cruised Monaco’s harbour, snowboarded Japan’s fresh powder, and celebrated his birthday at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. This means that while authorities say they’ve had no idea where Boss was, his friends, family, and all of their followers seem to have had no doubt about his whereabouts and the good times he’s been having.

… During the time Boss hid in plain sight, an Associated Press (AP) investigation into his whereabouts simultaneously exposed how the Yoovidhya family has spent decades hiding its assets in offshore accounts.

… As the business expanded, Chaleo Yoovidhya began hiding his assets. In 1994, he set up a shell company called Golden Falcon Trading Company in the British Virgin Islands. The Panama Papers, an international collaboration among journalists that began in 2016 to sift through leaked documents that identify the offshore financial dealings of the world’s wealthy, disclosed that ten of Chaleo’s children were shareholders.

The Yoovidhya family’s efforts to hide assets show how billions in private wealth can be moved around the world with minimal regulation to avoid tax and other legal constraints. The extent of the family’s confidential deals was inadvertently exposed by Boss and his social-media-loving cousins during his time on the run: they had posted photos of Boss walking into a London townhouse, and they even included the address….

An investigation into the five-storey brick home showed that it is the address Boss’s father, Chalerm Yoovidhya, gave when incorporating Siam Winery Trading Plus in the UK in 2002, and that his mother, Daranee Yoovidhya, used when opening a food-related business there in 2006. But, according to AP, the listed owner of the home, and at least four other multi-million-dollar properties in London, isn’t the Yoovidhyas—it’s Karnforth Investments, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Panama Papers.

… [T]he main shareholder of the energy drink’s UK business is another British Virgin Islands company called Jerrard Company.

Here’s where it gets complicated: an investigation by AP revealed that Karnforth has just one shareholder, which is Jerrard. And Jerrard is held by a third offshore company, which controls a fourth, called JK Fly. Who owns JK Fly? Karnforth. The Yoovidhyas’ offshore companies overlap with nominee directors—people legally paid small amounts to sign forms and attend directors’ meetings in lieu of the true owners, whose names remain confidential.

According to AP, documents from the Panama Papers show that, for years, money has flowed back and forth between these various entities. For example, in 2005, Jerrard loaned Karnforth $6.5 million US to buy two London properties. In 2012, Jerrard cancelled the mortgages, giving Karnforth ownership of the properties. Since 2010, JK Fly has owed Karnforth, its sole shareholder, about $14 million US in an interest-free loan to purchase aircraft.

… In 2010, and again in 2013, the papers [Panama Papers] show that auditors at Mossack Fonseca’s head offices in Panama—the company that arranged the Yoovidhya’s network of companies—raised concerns about Karnforth and Jerrard. Documents verifying the true owners were missing.

[W]hile other governments were swift and aggressive in responding to Panama Papers revelations, that has not been the case in Thailand. More than 1,400 Thai individuals were identified in the documents, but according to AP, the government calls the reports rumours….

Law professor Viraphong Boonyobhas, director of Chulalongkorn University’s business-crime and money-laundering data bank in Bangkok, would not speak directly about the Yoovidhyas or any other Thai person or company, saying he feared for his legal and physical safety….

Corruption is defined by the abuse of power for private gain. It erodes public trust and undermines institutions. In Thailand, many residents assume the wealthy elite can break the law with impunity. Over generations, people have grown used to giving mandatory “gifts” of cash to judges, police, and government officials in exchange for building and business permits, as well as favourable court decisions. They’ve watched as rich and influential families win lucrative contracts and avoid prosecutors.

Here’s who gets arrested in Thailand: citizens gathering for nonviolent protests to denounce the coup-installed junta government, bloggers posting social-media messages critical of the king, journalists carrying bulletproof vests and helmets for protection at riots that at times turn deadly.

The policeman’s family grieved but figured at least there would be justice.

They didn’t get it and they know the justice system “runs on a ‘double standard’…”. In Thailand, “the justice system has two tracks: one for the elite and one for everybody else.”





Updated: Murder, impunity

4 09 2019

PPT has only mentioned the enforced disappearance of Karen rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen twice.

Clipped from Khaosod

One post came soon after his “disappearance” after being detained in Kaeng Krachan National Park by park officials on bogus charges. The post noted that Billy’s “disappearance” came after he filed a lawsuit that accused Kaeng Krachan Park authorities of damaging the property and homes of more than 20 Karen families living inside the park, suggesting that state officials were (again) solving “problems” by enforced disappearance. (We have seen this again recently with the murder and disappearance of several anti-monarchy activists.)

Several years ago the Asian Legal Resource Center made the UN’s Human Rights Council aware of the importance of continued action to end enforced disappearance in Thailand. It pointed out that “[d]ocumented cases indicate that enforced disappearances of citizens, including human rights defenders, dissidents, and ordinary people, have been carried out by Thai state security forces for over forty years.”

Two years after our first post, we noted a Human Rights Watch communication that observed that:

Thailand signed the Convention against Enforced Disappearance in January 2012 but has not ratified the treaty. The penal code still does not recognize enforced disappearance as a criminal offense. Thai authorities have yet to satisfactorily resolve any of the 64 enforced disappearance cases reported by Human Rights Watch, including the disappearances of prominent Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit in March 2004 and ethnic Karen activist Por Cha Lee Rakchongcharoen, known as “Billy,” in April 2014.

As usual, the official “investigation” was hopeless. However, on Tuesday, the Department of Special Investigation announced that it had found and identified “bone fragments of a Karen community rights activist [Billy] missing since 2014…”. The bone fragment DNA, said to “match those of his mother,” were “found in May inside a 200-liter oil tank submerged in water near a suspension bridge inside Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province…. The tank that was found was burnt. The bones were also burnt…”. (This raises the specter of the Red Drum murders.)

This discovery came after Billy’s relatives “filed a request with the Phetchaburi Provincial Court to have Porlajee declared legally dead on 27 August…”.

Will anyone be brought to justice? Probably not. Impunity remains the norm for murderous officials, police and military.

Update: Sounding odd indeed, in the Bangkok Post, Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, “who was among the last people to see the late Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen before he disappeared five years ago” has decided to publicly question the “DNA test that led authorities to conclude the Karen rights activist was murdered.” Speculation on why he might do this is warranted, but the ex-chief was quick to say that “he had nothing to do with Porlajee’s disappearance and death.”





Political violence and official impunity

2 07 2019

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan is administratively in charge – still – of all security units. He has finally spoken of the attack(s) on activist Sirawith Seritiwat. He wasn’t very convincing when he “denied being behind a recent attack that left a pro-democracy activist in a critical condition.”

He went on in junta-speak: ““I don’t condone violence. Whoever causes unrest in the country must be punished…. The case is still unclear. It is under investigation.”

Gen Prawit managed to maneuver into to ultra-rightist narrative when he added that he did not know if the attack was politically motivated or a “personal issue.” This plays into the “fake news” (that Prawit claims to want to end) from ultra-yellows and the junta’s own, including the reprehensible Pareena Kraikupt of the Palang Pracharath Party and police “leaks” to a rightist newspaper that claim “Sirawith might have been attacked by loan sharks due to a family debt…”, which Sirawith’s mother has vehemently denied.

Meanwhile, national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda “aired his suspicions that both attacks on Sirawith were orchestrated by the same group.” Brilliant! No wonder he is police chief! But then he managed to support the rightists thugs and their aim, warning “that it wasn’t safe to get political in public, saying that activists should avoid campaigning publicly…”. That’s what the thugs (and the junta) want. He also mentioned that police “couldn’t guarantee their [activists’] safety.”

Some of the reporting/op-eds on the cowardly attack is worth considering.

Veera Prateepchaikul at the Bangkok Post observes the brazen attack, claims of state connivance and the attackers’ apparent nonchalance, “convinced they would never get caught.” He is right to say that the “unprovoked violence deserves condemnation in the strongest terms.”

He’s also correct to observe that “there has not been a word from any other incumbent ministers except …[Gen] Prawit Wongsuwon…”. He notes their silence on previous attacks on Sirawith and other anti-coup activists. And, he’s has little doubt that the “attack on Mr Sirawith was politically motivated.”

But, then, as ever, Veera wants to compare this violence with that under Thaksin Shinawatra. While political violence occurs under all regimes, the culprits and motivators of political assassination, beatings and enforced disappearance are almost always believed to be police and military. In recent cases, He also mentions the murder of former ministers in the 1940s, by police. It isn’t clear why Veera does not look at the rise of royalist-rightist violence sponsored by the military in the early 1970s.

(He might also get his facts right. He states that “whistle-blower Ekkayuth Anchanbutr went missing without trace in 2013 during the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.” In fact, according to Wikipedia and The Nation reported Ekkayuth’s “body was found in the southern province of Phatthalung…”.)

Then there’s Paritta Wangkiat who is a columnist for the Bangkok Post. She observes the rightist cheering of the political thugs. That’s the “He deserves it”response, “with apparent satisfaction…”. Some on social media “referred to the activist as a ‘saboteur’ against the nation who deserves to suffer from even more attacks.”

She’s right to observe that these “recent attacks reflect the current state of polarisation in Thai politics with a dangerous rise in incidences of violence.” Her comment that the rightist “acceptance and encouragement of the use of violence against someone with a different political ideology speak volumes about our sick and rotten society” is worth considering.

But she looks to the past decade when, again, her view should be more historical. This kind of violence, conducted with impunity, is a defining characteristic of Thailand’s military and its efforts over several decades to “protect” monarchy and promote anti-democracy.

While Veera neglects it, Paritta does mention the impunity with which the military under Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and Gen Anupong Paojinda shooting down dozens of protesters and injuring hundreds more or the cheering associated with that, including from the Bangkok Post.

Sadly, she gets amnesic when she refers to “unidentified killers.” Letting the murderous military off the hook for their dirty deeds contributes to its impunity.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

On another point, however, she offers insight by observing the class nature of political violence. She notes that:

Thais are expected to know “their place”, be submissive and accept oppression…. This attitude of submissiveness and obedience has been embedded in society making it a perfect match for an authoritarian regime.

Such attitudes are the bread-and-butter/rice-and-fish sauce of the military and royalist rightists.

Where she gets it wrong is to argue that there is apathy towards political violence. There’s no apathy, on any side. Rather, the problems is that the military and other authorities operate this barbaric way with legal impunity.





Political murder and impunity

5 05 2019

Many readers will have already seen the Khaosod report that sadly but not unexpectedly tells of another coronation gift: “Soldiers who killed six people at a temple during a 2010 protest will not stand trial in the military court…”.

Phayao Akkahad, who lost a daughter, Kamonkade, when the nurse was treating the wounded at the “safe zone” at Wat Pathum Wanaram. Kamonkade was shot dead by soldiers, probably firing from the Skytrain elevated railway. They shot others in that so-called safe zone as well.

“Investigators” have now told Phayao “that the military prosecutors decided to drop charges against the eight soldiers…” a court inquest earlier held responsible. They  cited “a lack of evidence,” but as everyone in Thailand knows, this is buffalo manure. In fact, the military is just doing what it always does when it tortures or kills civilians. That is, granting impunity.

Phayao said the “military prosecutors announced there won’t be indictment…. The prosecutors reasoned the no-indictment that there was no evidence, no circumstantial evidence, and no eyewitnesses.”

This is simply false. There are still photos and video evidence of the soldiers involved. PPT has posted some of this evidence several times.

The Khaosod report has video reporting from the time showing soldiers firing into the temple.

The evidence is clear but no soldier is held responsible. More importantly, those who ordered the murderous crackdown – Suthep Thaugsuban, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Gen Anupong Paojinda and current military dictator, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha – get away with murder.

To date, not a single person has been held responsbile for the more than 90 deaths in April and May 2010. Sadly, in royalist Thailand, that is normal.





Impunity continues

31 03 2019

To leave “election” news for a while, PPT noticed a report in the Bangkok Post that gave an account of a recent court ruling from the south.

The Pattani provincial court ruled the deaths of four men, initially claimed to be “insurgents” and shot dead by police and military were legal.

The court proclaimed that “state authorities are not required to compensate the families of four men shot…”.As the report states,

A fact-finding committee, set up to look into the case, concluded in April 2015 that the four were not linked with the deep South insurgency. These findings prompted Lt Gen Prakarn Cholayuth, then 4th army region commander, to apologise for the incident.

Despite this, “the court ruled that the police and army officers who gunned down the four had acted lawfully and that their organisations would not be liable for the incident.”

The families can appeal, but this court’s decision again grants police and military with impunity when they murder citizens.





Torture, impunity

12 03 2019

While the puppet National Legislative Assembly continues to pass all manner of legislation, working faster than it ever has, seeking to complete the military junta’s political agenda before the NLA passes into history.

At the same time, it has resisted legislation that would limit the impunity of the military’s and state’s assassins and torturers.

In a recent editorial, the Bangkok Post noted:

Shortly after it was appointed by the new military regime in 2014, the National Legislative Assembly proposed a law that would criminalise torture and the government murders known as “enforced disappearances”.

But almost 5 years later, this legislation – the Torture and Enforced Disappearance Prevention and Suppression Bill – is likely to be dropped. The Post comments:

The refusal to ban abuses and murders that are illegal in most countries and by international law is a shameful blot. Both the regime and its appointed parliament share that shame.

The editorial observes that torture is standard practice in Thailand. It also notes that another horrendous practice – enforced disappearance – has also been widely used:

Thailand has never had a law against torture. It has never legislated against the detestable crime of disappearing — murdering and hiding the bodies — critics and activists who have not broken the law.

It might have added that the military regime appears to have escalated this practice internationally for “protecting” the monarchy.

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

This perhaps explains why the military regime’s “supporters in the NLA have already tried to strip accountability from the pending legislation,” extending impunity. The regime, the military and the police want to be able to torture and “disappear” with impunity. Many in the ruling class agree that their henchmen should have such “powers.”

Victims, their supporters and families are left powerless and that’s how the regime, the military and the police want.





Judiciary, military, impunity

20 09 2018

Under the military dictatorship the judiciary has been less interventionist that it was when it opposed elected governments. The royalist elite charged the judiciary with drawing lines in the political sand and protecting it against uppity elected governments.

But the loyal servants of monarchy and military on the bench can still be quite royally repugnant when they are told to enforce the military’s will or charge themselves as enforcers.

Sawai Thongom was shot in a 2009 protest against the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. That left him disabled. Later, a “court ruled the armed forces must pay him 1.2 million baht…”.

Not long after that an appeals court “overturned the judgment on appeal, ruling that the bullet wounds sustained by Sawai and another injured plaintiff were caused by a type of gun not issued to soldiers.” [As far as PPT can recall, this is not the case, and the Army does have the weapon in question.]

The case went to the Supreme Court, which decided that not only was Sawai up for “over 300,000 baht in fees and damages for harming the military’s reputation.”

Yes, we know, the military’s reputation is as murderous thugs, but one of the judiciary’s tasks is to save the face of big bosses in state positions maintain the impunity of the military.

The latest twist is that not only has impunity and face been maintained, but the junta has decided to further punish the disabled Sawai; they have seized his land and his money.

In June, “all the money in his bank account, just over 5,000 baht” was grabbed by the military’s thugs. More recently, Sawai received a letter “telling him he must surrender the deed to his 8 rai (1.3 hectare) of land in … Surin province.”

The letter said his land was valued “at 460,980 baht, the letter said it would be auctioned off to compensate the military.”

Interestingly, Sawai is fighting back and is now supported by “[v]eteran political activist and former lese majeste prisoner Somyot Prueksakasemsuk [who] is helping him raise funds and file petitions.”

Somyos said:

Will citizens dare to sue the state in the future if there’s such a crackdown?… You get shot and become physically handicapped. Then you go to the court and end up having to pay the army.

Sawai is unwilling to hand over his land title. He also realizes the government can sell it regardless. He knows that he’s merely buying time for what he fears is the inevitable outcome.

The Army has been prancing about in red shirt-dominated electorates intervening in “loan sharking” and returning land to farmers. But when it comes to the “dignity” of the murderous thugs of the Royal Thai Army, there is no sympathy. Rather there is just punishment.

Justice in Thailand excludes the poor as it protects the rich, the monarchy and the military.

Sawai has another mark against him. He holds political views that irk the royalist elite. On joining the rallies in 2009, he says of the Abhisit regime: “I did not join the protest due to hatred. I just oppose a party with minority seats forming a government on a military base…”. He continued: “I am just a normal person who, unarmed and wearing a Redshirt, exercised my rights to sue the armed forces…”.

It seems that no such right exists. Impunity remain intact.





Big fish impunity

28 06 2018

The Bangkok Post recently had an editorial condemning the Auditor-General. It criticizes the Office not for finding malfeasance in claiming allegedly false travel expenses of less than 100,000 baht, but for the fact that the Auditor-General “seem to target — based on what they have done so far — only the small fish?”

The editorial also points at the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s failure to come to any conclusion on the Deputy Dictators luxury watch and jewelry case.

General Prawit Wongsuwan seems to enjoy impunity simply because he’s a big fish.

It is now about seven months since the case first came to light and it is hardly a complicated allegation. Yet the NACC has dragged its feet.

It seems that the anti-corruption agencies are merely processing terminals for the junta. They do as they are told.





Political impunity challenged

15 05 2018

One of the factors that encourage generals to overthrow governments is that the perpetrators of successful putsches always declare their actions (retrospectively) legal. Once the coup leaders are finally seen off, that immunity and impunity is never challenged.

Watana Muangsook, a Puea Thai Party politician, is challenging this.

On Monday Watana called for “the prosecution of coup-makers after the next election.”

Saying the 2014 military coup led by Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan had caused “severe damage to the country and wasted a lot of state budget while causing the most suffering to the people.”

Watana blamed the damage on “inefficient management by retired military officers who want to have power but lack intelligence.”

None of that sounds exactly like holding them responsible for the coup itself, until Watana adds: “The goal is to prevent anyone from using the armed forces to destroy democracy again. More importantly, coup-makers must be punished for causing damage to the country…”.

This is the beginning of a discussion that needs to be held. Such discussions, however, will be muted for fear that they will cause the generals to hold on and prevent any challenge to their impunity.

Watana is right when he states that: “Dictators must be brought to court…”.








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