Rich refugee from military-monarchy gang

19 06 2017

The very wealthy Nopporn Suppipat was accused of lese majeste after he was named in a family-based purge of persons associated with then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s estranged wife Srirasmi and her relatives in early December 2014.

The Bangkok Military Court issued an arrest warrant for Nopporn on 2 December 2014  allegedly he hiried two criminal suspects connected to former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan, the then princess’s uncle. Nopporn is accused of defaming the monarchy by using royal influence to hire others to physically assault and threaten.

Forbes lists Nopporn as a rich lister, worth US$800 million. His rise has been startling after several unsuccessful enterprises in the past. He is boss of Wind Energy Holding Co.

Nopporn fled the country and declared his innocence.

He apparently fled to Cambodia on 30 November 2014 after he found that he would be charged under the lese majeste law. He says: “I knew ‘112’ would mean I wouldn’t get bail… I couldn’t take that risk…”.

Nopporn denied any connection to the princess’s relatives. He says he was engaged in a lengthy court dispute over money with the businessman, eventually enlisting the help of a senior army officer to help negotiate a final settlement. Nopporn said the officer hired Srirasmi’s brothers, without his knowledge.

The tycoon also explained that he believed he was being targeted because he was perceived as being close to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, which he denies. He says the “police believed I was close to Thaksin, and with that I knew I had to run…”.

Nopporn said he has no intention of returning to Thailand any time soon because he would be unable to get a fair hearing in the junta-strangled nation. He denies all of the charges.

All of this is background for a story in the Business Insider on Nopporn’s exile in France. He has now lived in Paris for two years “as a political refugee, and has dabbled in France’s burgeoning tech scene. He is the lead investor in Blade, a Paris-based cloud computing firm which has just raised €51 million (£45 million)…”.

He said he doesn’t plan to return to Thailand and has sold his company there:

Suppipat, for legal reasons, can’t comment on where his money is. Having fled Thailand, he was forced to sell WEH in 2016 in what he describes as a bad deal to another prominent Thai businessman, Nop Narongdej. “He shafted me….

No one is safe in Thailand under the military-monarchy gang.





Still working against universal health care

19 06 2017

Since its coup, the military dictatorship has continually tried to convince people that the Thaksin Shinawatra-inspired universal health care program should be ditched or modified. We have we have posted on some of these royalist-inspired efforts to roll back the universal health care program. We have also mentioned independent assessments of the success of that program.

The junta ha, each time it floated the idea, backed off when it was clear that the program has wide public support. That hasn’t stopped it sniping at he program as a part of the Thaksin regime that has to be uprooted. The regime has also ensured that the program suffers budget problems.

Along with the big hospital owners and the doctors who make a fortune from private clinics, the junta would prefer a privatized system (think America’s Republicans).

Its latest efforts to gut the program are being pushed with more determination this time, seemingly going ahead despite opposition. As The Nation puts it, “the National Health Security Bill is set to sail ahead despite its four public hearings utterly failing to appease opponents.”

Not only will the puppet National Legislative Assembly vote almost unanimously for whatever its bosses want, but it is made up of anti-democrats who consider universal health care a Thaksin plot to win votes. They call it policy corruption and grumble about populism.

The measure of the dictatorship’s renewed determination is shown by the efforts now being made to intimidate opponents of this dismantling.

The saving of the program will only be if the junta believes that changing the program will be “electorally” damaging when they decide it is time they win an election.





Updated: Trains, land and all that money

18 06 2017

PPT likes trains. We like public transport generally. We acknowledge that Thailand’s public infrastructure has been neglected and that many of the public transport developments that have taken place have been for the middle class in Bangkok. When it comes to rail other than the subway and skytrain, the infrastructure is a crumbling mess.

In short, rail links to the region and across Thailand can have considerable benefits. That was illustrated, in part, by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime wanted a rail link to China. It is why the Yingluck Shinawatra government established a high-powered team investigating and seeking to move the project forward.

So what is the military dictatorship up to?

As we know, after years of failing negotiations with the Chinese, The Dictator has used Article 44 “to expedite the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima and enable work to begin this year.”

Only between Bangkok and Korat and high-speed. That means, so far, no links regionally and suggests a passenger service. It also doesn’t say what “high speed” means. But because the military junta is doing it, precious few details are available.

The junta’s decree “aims to clear technical and legal problems for the delayed 252-kilometre railway.”

It is a remarkable decree in that it “instructs the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the construction of the Thai-Chinese railway.”

That Chinese company “will oversee the design of the railway infrastructure as well as rail and electrical systems. It will serve as an adviser for the project’s construction and provide training in system-related knowledge for the project staff.”

In other words, the junta is establishing a kind of Chinese monopoly for Thailand on this huge project. It is not just rail because all such projects are also about land. (Yes, we know other contracts for other lines have been considered with the Japanese.)

The contract “must be ready within 120 days,” suggesting that there’s already a preferred contractor. After that, “Thailand and China would then be able to sign an agreement for the design contract…”.

As Khaosod says, using Article 44 will “remove all legal obstacles preventing China from taking charge of every step in the construction of the high-speed railway project.” It says ten “relevant laws and junta orders involving government procurement…”. It also said that “Chinese engineers and architects are also exempted from professional licensing requirements.”

Interestingly, the use of Article 44 “shielded the project from going out to international bidders and exempted it from a mandatory process to estimate costs.” The order states that an “unspecified amount of funds [is] to be approved by the interim cabinet.”

The order would also “allow construction to take place on protected lands…”.

What isn’t stated is that the line will involve the compulsory acquisition of land from landholders and will gobble up land that was previously allocated with limited title, exactly the kind of land the junta has been so agitated about in other areas such as national parks.

That Dictator Prayuth Chan-ocha is “due to visit China to attend the ninth BRICS Summit in September,” might add something to the use of Article 44, recalling that he wasn’t invited to a recent meeting in China, seen as a snub.

Another Bangkok Post report has the World Bank urging “the Thai government to hold an open bidding for the long-delayed Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima to ensure transparency.”

Transparency may be important but it won’t happen in this project, just as it hasn’t in all major projects and purchases by the junta. Most infrastructure projects involve 30-40% “commission” payments. Junta-related interests are salivating.

And the land! So much land! It will be appropriated and then rented or sold to the tycoons for all kinds of projects that will further enrich them.

Bangkok Post’s Umesh Pandey grumbles that the use of Article 44 by a “caretaker” regime is wrong: “In any given scenario the job of the caretaker government is to look at maintaining the status quo and not undertake major policies that involve committing the country’s resources for years if not decades to come…”.

He keeps forgetting that this is a military dictatorship and that it has no intention of fading away.

He asks: “who is going to be responsible for the transparency of the multi-billion-dollar project.” The idea is that wealth generation for the few is built on monopolies and opaque arrangements. That’s Thailand’s history, and not just under juntas.

And Umesh notes that The Dictator’s order also “silences opposition to any project, overriding the system of checks and balances that would make sure Thailand gets the best deal.”

Thailand is a loose concept. We know from wealth data and from details about the unusually rich who gets the best deal. And they define themselves as “Thailand.”

Umesh continues: “People like myself are all for the project but I wonder how clean the process is going to be, especially as rumours swirl of kickbacks to contractors.”

He isn’t wondering, he knows. Then he raises another point:

Then there is the issue of a possible election late next year. As any economist would tell you, the time between green-lighting a project and seeing the money flow in can be anywhere from nine to 12 months — around the time the election is expected.

Is that a coincidence? Certainly, signs of economic growth right before the polls could be an advantage to some.

We remain unconvinced about an “election,” but we see his point. But what of the land? All that land.

Update: Prachatai has two stories on the train line, one that is about middle-class concerns regarding safety where professionals raise this issue. The other is interesting in that in a review of the week, it raises the issue of the use of Article 44 to create “extraterritoriality,” but only in the title. It is an interesting issue and harks back to the decades it took to roll back the extraterritoriality enshrined in the Bowring Treaty.





The weight of lese majeste

18 06 2017

In a report for From Our Correspondents, the BBC’s Jonathan Head reports from Chiang Mai on the “weight of Thailand’s lese majeste law, which protects the country’s royal family from insult – and meets a family who found themselves on the wrong side of it. Yet he also hears from some of the many Thais who passionately defend their monarchy on any and every media platform.”

The ultra-royalists who hunt down and report those who they think insult the monarchy show no remorse for, in this case, having a mother who knew little about the way she was railroaded through the “justice” system jailed for years and years.

Protecting the monarchy is a savage business.





Enforced amnesia

17 06 2017

The efforts to erase history from the brains of Thais continues.

A widely-circulated Khaosod report is of junta thug-soldiers and police going to two art galleries in Bangkok and ordering the removal of “three photographs from an exhibition without citing any reason.”

In fact, thug-soldiers working for the military dictatorship doesn’t need any reason for doing what it pleases. Yet, in this case, the notion seems to be to prevent people from remembering.

One of the exhibitions depicts the “lives and memories of political prisoners while the other was an homage to the 2010 military crackdown on Redshirt protests which left more than 90 people dead.”

The soldiers reportedly showed up under a misapprehension that lese majeste convict Pornthip Munkong, was hosting the exhibition. In fact, many of the photos had already been removed from the exhibition following a complaint by Pornthip.

By chance, the soldiers wandered across to the other exhibition and were aghast that the exhibition “contrasts images of the bloody 2010 crackdown with pictures of everyday life.” The soldiers demanded that three collages be removed.

The military junta seems intent on countrywide lobotomy.





Secret meetings at the junta’s processing terminal

17 06 2017

Readers may recall that four months ago it was reported that an iLaw study pointed to the apparently unconstitutionality of some members of the military junta’s puppet National Legislative Assembly who were being paid large amounts of money for seldom appearing at the NLA. Immediately, the details of “leaves” taken were considered “secret.”

Clean hands?

At the time, the limelight was on The Dictator’s brother, General Preecha Chan-ocha, who had a record of nepotism and other allegations of corruption, all of which seem to have faded away or that he’s wriggled out of. It helps to have your sibling lording it over the country. It can make you rich and gets you off all kinds of potential charges.

Preecha hardly ever attended the NLA, but pocketed the salary, which was on top of numerous other salaries he collected because he has multiple positions, all state sinecures.

PPT guessed that Preecha would get off this one and continue to receive money for nothing because can “leaves” are secret. We predicted an announcement will be made that the non-attendees were “on leave.”

Sure enough, almost immediately, that statement was made by none other than Deputy Dictator and Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan has declared that “it is not a problem that General Preecha Chan-o-cha, the former Defence permanent secretary and brother of the prime minister, takes frequent leave from legislative meetings…”. But he did say that “a committee is being set up to examine the case.”

Less than a week later, the vice president of the military’s NLA said “an internal review” found the seven members in question had in fact met the minimum participation requirements and would not be dismissed. No details were provided so we can assume this was all fudged and fabricated.

As might be expected under the military dictatorship, things went quiet and it was all forgotten. Preecha and his fellow non-attendees still pocketed the money.

The story returned yesterday, and readers will not be amazed to know that Preecha and his buddies have been officially cleared.

The NLA told the media that “the seven members, including former Army Chief General Preecha Chan-o-cha, did not breach the regulation.”

The reason for this was that “they sometimes had to perform their normal duty as state officials…”.

Of course, this is a nonsensical response that, on the face of it, ignores the NLA’s own rules.

However, we will never know what actually happened or get any further detail because “the meeting was held in secret for one hour today [Friday].”

Yes, that’s how the military dictatorship works.

Just to confirm suspicions that this was a concocted result, the “NLA also voted in favour of amending its work procedure rule, removing clauses which set out the number of times a member fails to vote that would cause membership to be nullified.”

That is clear. Loud and clear. The NLA is a rubber stamp for the junta almost always voting unanimously for laws handed down by its paymasters.

This decision acknowledges that the NLA is irrelevant; it doesn’t even need members present to do the junta’s bidding. In fact, calling it a “rubber stamp” assembly is giving it too much credit. It is an expensive processing terminal.





Patnaree’s lese majeste case begins

17 06 2017

Another ludicrous and vindictive lese majeste trial has begun. On 16 June 2017, testimony began to be heard in the lese majeste case against Patnaree Chankij.

The case is ludicrous for several reasons. For one thing, it is an attempt to silence Patnaree’s son, anti-junta activist Sirawith Seritiwat. Second, the charge appears to relate to one word in a Facebook conversation about the monarchy: “ja.”

While the report linked here says that the word is initially translated as “yeah,” this is a misinterpretation that the military regime knows will be the court’s understanding. In fact, “ja” is a word used for all kinds of responses to statements by others and does not always imply agreement with anything at all.

Yet ludicrous lese majeste charges are “normal” for the military dictatorship as it seeks to manage Thailand as a royalist anti-democracy.

Patnaree is a single mother and a domestic worker and for her “ja” now stands “accused of insulting the monarchy, a crime known as lese majeste for which she could serve three to 15 years in prison.” She also faces charges under the Computer Crimes Act, another “law” that represses free speech in Thailand.

So far, Patnaree has maintained that she innocent on all the junta’s charges. She has “denied she had any intention to join in or endorse criticism of the monarchy in the conversation.” She adds: “I am fighting this charge to prove my innocence… My intention, my thought and the text that I wrote have already shown that I had no such idea (to defame the monarchy).”

The report states that the only “witness” heard on Friday was “an army officer who filed the complaint against her, laid out the details of the prosecution’s case.” The case is, like so many other lese majeste cases, a political persecution.