Updated: Prawit reports

17 03 2018

The Bangkok Post reports that National Anti-Corruption Commission secretary-general Worawit Sookboon states that the Deputy Dictator Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has “submitted a clarification statement on his luxury watch collection to the National anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) [on] Thursday just before the deadline expired.”

That same NACC secretary-general also said “he had yet to examine it” and “refused to give any more details.” Nor would Gen Prawit comment.

That the diminutive horological fan has submitted a report after four deadlines were extended by the puppet NACC, apparently two deadlines more than it is meant to provide, means very little until details are available. Expect the NACC to dither and dissemble for some time to come.

Update: An editorial at the Bangkok Post excoriates the NACC, but insufficiently. It says the NACC’s cover-up/slow “investigations” of Prawit. It says the NACC “risks” it “credibility.” PPT thinks that is a dubious claim. The NACC lost its credibility some time ago, when it signed up to the junta’s agenda and became an arm of military rule. Even so, the editorial raises several basic issues about this corrupt investigation.

Ultra-royalists vs. NKOTB

16 03 2018

A little while ago, PPT posted on the attention to the young phenoms threatening to enter politics and to shake up the system. At the time, we reckoned that there would be lots of grey hairs who would work assiduously to undermine them and added that claims of treason, sedition and even lese majeste might follow.

It didn’t take long. Prachatai recently had a story on the rising opposition to the now named Anakhot Mai or Future Forward Party, which is the 58th party to register with the Election Commission.

As Prachatai puts it:

The spotlight of Thai politics is shining on the party’s key leaders, Thanathorn [Juangroongruangkit] and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law professor at Thammasat University. They have claimed that the party will break the vicious circle of Thai politics, where the military claims to be a middleman to solve the political conflict. Piyabutr said the military itself is, in fact, the root of the problem.

Royalist criticism has already been heard. Ultra-royalists accuse the new party of republicanism. The loudest critic has been M.C. Chulcherm Yugala, a nasty and conservative prince and general, or as the loathsome Thailand Tatler puts it, “Maj Gen His Serene Highness.” His blast is that the new party intends “to turn Thailand into a republic” where “the abolishment of the Article 112 was only the first step.” He added that the party had “a connection with the anti-establishment redshirts.”

Maj Gen His Serene Highness Chulcherm thundered: “This land, this kingdom must have the monarchy, and the kings will last forever. Don’t ever think of abolishing it.” He then said he “will run a political party to protect the monarchy as well.” We thought that was the job of the Democrat Party and the military devil parties.

It isn’t Chulcherm’s first political brush. Back then there were thoughts he was a reddish prince, but that’s all gone now and Chulcherm avers a politics that is distinctly driven by 1932 concerns for the monarchy. He seems to claim not just blood links but political alliances with dead king, that king’s dead sister, queen and current king.

In our view, it is somewhat disappointing to read that Piyabutr argues “that his movements in the past with Nitirat was to promote democracy and actually to protect the monarchy so the institution would not be abused as a political tool.” He went on to observe that the “Thai authorities [we guess he means the military junta] nowadays are also aware of the problems under the lèse majesté law and seeking a way to reduce numbers of the prosecutions.”

It’s disappointing because royalists will never believe him or vote for the new party. That ultra-royalists go mad is to be expected. That’s how they play politics.

Another royal money move

16 03 2018

Reuters reports that “Thailand’s king now has a stake worth nearly $150 million in the country’s biggest industrial conglomerate, Siam Cement Group Pcl, according to stock exchange data, while his close aide is in line for a board seat.”

As background, readers might recall that it was last October that it was reported that the Crown Property Bureau’s shareholding in Siam Commercial Bank suddenly declined by 3.33%, amounting to about 17 billion baht. It was then reported that these shares had been transferred to King Vajiralongkorn from the Crown Property Bureau.

The latest move on Siam Cement followed the same pattern: “The 0.76 percent stake in the king’s name in Siam Cement was acquired on Feb. 8 while there was a matching reduction in the stake of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages palace assets…”.

In total, the shares previously held by the CPB and now transferred to the king’s portfolio amounts to about $690 million. These holdings would produce a “dividend yield [of]… more than $25 million per year.”

The report continues by commenting on the secretiveness of these transfers: “The terms of the transfers have not been disclosed in public. Neither company nor the Crown Property Bureau would comment on them…. The palace has a policy of not commenting to media.”

The CPB remains the largest shareholder in Siam Cement, holding 30% of the company.

Since taking the throne, outside the CPB, the king has become “the 15th largest shareholder in Siam Cement and the sixth biggest in Siam Commercial Bank…”.

At Siam Cement, “Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol, a close aide to the king who was made director general of the Crown Property Bureau this month, is recommended for a board seat at a March 28 annual general meeting.”

Satitpong, 69, has been responsible for managing the king’s personal affairs and assets for some time. He reportedly “became personal secretary to then-Crown Prince … Vajiralongkorn in 2005, and served on the board of national flag carrier Thai Airways International from 2009 to 2013.” The then-prince had a long relationship and “position” with Thai Airways, as well as having a personal  interest in several women with the airline.

The SCG annual report for 2017 (clicking downloads a PDF) lists former CPB boss Chirayu Isarangkun as a director of the company since 1987 until 1999 and then since 2007. The board is a coterie of old royalists, with an average age of 72. Of the 24 listed as directors and management in the company, only one is a woman. A look through the CVs of the directors reveals that most have long royal links and serve on other royal-owned companies, including those making, managing and investing the personal wealth of Vajiralongkorn and Sirindhorn. Details of retirements and nominations for the SCG Board can be downloaded as a PDF. According to this document, Chirayu will remain on the Board.

Speculation about the reasons for the king needing to control large personal stakes in two of Thailand’s largest listed companies is rife. One reason suggested is his lavish lifestyle and the need for cash rather than relying on the CPB, although the king now has more or less personal control of the CPB. Another suggestion is that he plans grand palace construction in the expanding royal precinct.

The various reports note that the CPB remains huge. The usual estimate of its assets is around $30 billion. But that’s a figure Forbes came up with back in 2011. Yet an earlier estimate by an academic came up with more than $40 billion in 2005. Since then Thai shares have performed reasonably well and land prices have increased substantially.  Our guesstimate is that the CPB, if it has done as well as the rest of Thailand’s wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons, should now be valued at between $50 billion and $70 billion. (It is possible that the CPB has been underperforming, but its operations are a secret, as is its worth.)

Watches and the junta’s protection racket

15 03 2018

The Bangkok Post states:

The charter court ruled on Friday that the provision in the organic bill governing the NACC [National Anti-Corruption Commission] which excuses some of its members from qualification rules set down in the charter does not contravene the constitution.

It describes the ruling as “controversial,” not least because some of the current NACC members are simply and obviously not qualified to serve under the current charter.

In essence, the politicized court has allowed a “a law to override the constitution which is the supreme law.” Of course, this is not at all new in Thailand and especially not under the current junta. Military dictatorships come to power by overthrowing constitutions and when they develop their own, these are applied to others, but not to the regime.

When deep yellow activists like Pichai Rattanadilok Na Phuket express “concerns the ruling undermines checks and balances,” you know that there’s a real odor about this politicized ruling in favor of one of the military dictatorship’s puppet agencies. Pichai once fronted the ultra-royalist and neo-fascist Sayam Prachapiwat group.

One reason for this ruling is that the junta needs the NACC, headed by its lackey Gen Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit.

We see this in the never-ending saga of the NACC’s “investigation” of the Deputy Dictator.

Another Bangkok Post story states that a “fact-finding committee on a collection of luxury watches worn by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon” cannot come to a decisionon the watch case. Now, we wonder what “fact-finding” means to the NACC. Its in-house dictionary seems to define “fact-finding” as “a process of delaying reports and investigations so that a cover-up may be achieved.”

This definition is clearly at work on Gen Prawit Wongsuwan’s case because the NACC “fact-finding committee” is not deciding the case, but is “divided over whether to summon the deputy premier to make a statement.” Wow! It is also reported that the “fact-finding committee” is still “waiting for Gen Prawit to submit his clarification.” Wow and wow! Gen Prawit has been given at least four extended “deadlines,” which he simply ignores. After all, he’s busy arranging an “election” victory for his political allies, and can’t be bothered with little details like his hugely expensive watch collection and how he came by it.

The Post report points out that “the law allows the NACC to give only two extensions.” That’s another law the junta and his loyal servants can simply ignore. In essence, the military regime is lawless.

Yes, no, maybe

14 03 2018

The Deputy Dictator has “confirmed a general election will take place according to the nation’s [he means the junta’s] development Road Map…”. At the same time he “denied any knowledge of a political party backing the current prime minister [he means The Dictator] to continue in politics.” He also denied a move to have Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha become a party adviser to the Palang Pracharat Party.

As usual, all of this is not worth the effort we have made in typing it. There remain “threats” to the junta’s election (non-) timetable. Then there’s Col. Suchart Chantaramanee, who served on a Prayuth-appointed reform body until July, and is now head of the Palang Pracharat Party who has stated that he “wants regime chairman Prayuth … directly involved in a top role – whether formally or informally.”

So that’s a yes, no and a maybe.

No limits

13 03 2018

Leading legal limpet, sucked onto the body of the junta, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has declared that The Dictator can do whatever he wants (so long as he controls the next regime).

Wissanu affirms that General Prayuth Chan-ocha “can be an adviser or member of a political party because no law forbids it…”. He added that The Dictator “could not run in an election unless he resigned as prime minister…”.

We had never imagined that the hierarchical and egotistical general was going to stand in the junta’s “election.” The plan seems to be that he will be invited by pro-junta parties following an election and assuming the pro-junta parties can get together with the junta’s Senate.

Get out!

13 03 2018

Pro-election activists have demanded that “the military junta step down, with the government downgraded to caretaker status ahead of the general election.”

AFP reports that “[h]undreds of pro-democracy Thais rallied in Bangkok on Saturday (March 10) to rail against the ruling junta with T-shirts, signs and speeches, as activists grow bolder in their defiance of a ban on protests.”

The demand for a caretaker administration makes sense, although we can’t imagine the military junta giving up the tremendous advantage the control of the state machinery gives pro-junta parties in the junta’s proposed “election.” Military governments in Thailand usually only go when they are pushed.

Several hundred “people gathered at the football field on the Tha Phrachan campus of Thammasat University on Saturday to make the demand.”

When Sirawith Seritiwat states that the junta will hold an election that is free and fair, he might have said that it is more likely to be unfree and unfair.

The demonstrators claimed they were offering the junta “an exit strategy.”

The rally also saw vendors selling “shirts with sly references to a spate of graft scandals that have helped fuel the dissent.” A black leopard was one. Watches were also in evidence. Both pointed to “an entrenched culture of impunity for the kingdom’s wealthy and well-connected.”