A PPT catch-up on Juntaland

7 04 2016

Having spent a considerable time putting together our Panama papers II post, we fell behind on other useful reports that have come out in recent days. Here’s a brief round-up:

Thai politics sink into vicious circle, from NewEurope. It begins: “Even though a new constitution is on the way in Thailand, it doesn’t seem this process will bring more democracy. On the contrary, the country is further sinking into its political vicious circle of instability.” It also cites Eugénie Mérieau, speaking at the hearing on the political crisis in Thailand at the French senate on 5 April.

Press Release from the Cross Cultural Foundation, Order bestowing sweeping powers and impunity to military breaches rule of law and human rights. Notes the allocation of police powers to the military and the threat to human rights and law. It ends: “The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) urges the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, to review and revoke the order to uphold the rule of law and human rights safeguard, particularly the right to justice process which is fundamental and indispensable for the restoration of democracy in Thailand.” Not much chance of that.

On the same topic, Asia Sentinel has the report, Thai Junta Turns Law Enforcement Over to Soldiers. It concludes: “The plan for continuing dictatorship is becoming clear, with military officers taking effective control of the criminal investigations, and assuming the powers of the police…. This is a new threshold, a whole new low on human rights in Thailand, that shows the NCPO is entrenching itself for the long term. What’s telling is that the NCPO’s list of ‘influential persons’ is not about so-called mafia only, but includes community leaders and activists who are being targeted by the military for standing up for their rights.”

Nirmal Ghosh at The Straits Times writes Thai military’s grand design in politics. It begins with a comparison with Myanmar: “The shadow of the army in Myanmar is a long one, but, over the past five years, it has shrunk. Next door in Thailand, though, the shadow of the Royal Thai Army is lengthening.” Much of the op-ed is in line with things PPT has been saying for some time: “It is obvious that the military’s grand design is to weaken political parties in order to have easily disposable coalition governments. The military will remain the real power whatever the outcome of the referendum and the election.” He quotes Thongchai Winichakul.

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed at The Guardian: Thailand is turning into Juntaland – and we are resisting. He begins: “Deep down, Thailand’s military junta leaders are probably aware that they are illegitimate. They’ve become increasingly paranoid and repressive in their crackdown against any form of resistance – both online and offline.” It ends: “Deep down, the junta knows that its power rests not on legitimacy but on the barrel of guns and the threat of arbitrary detention that is increasingly turning Thailand to Juntaland.”





Updated: Panama papers II

6 04 2016

We continue to look for data on Thailand in the Panama Papers. So far we aren’t having too much luck. We were, however, reminded of an earlier report of some 600 Thais stashing loot overseas.

That 2013 report, also from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, included Pojaman Shinawatra, Nalinee Taveesin, Bhanapot Damapong, members of the Chirathivat family, Yuenyong Opakul, and note this very carefully, the Vongkusolkit family and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian.

The latter was described as “the former deputy permanent secretary of defense, who is listed as one of many shareholders in the British Virgin Islands company Vnet Capital International Co., Ltd in 1998” with 2006 coup connections and who is described in a Wikileaks cable as an acolyte of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda.

On the new release of leaks from Mossack Fonseca, the main new report we have seen was in the Bangkok Post. It states that the “Office of the Auditor-General has weighed in on the so-called Panama Papers, asking the Revenue Department to look into tax payment records of Thai nationals named in a list of people allegedly using a Panama-based law firm for offshore holdings.”moneybags 1

Yet, as might be expected in a country that is protective of its wealthy elites and ruled by a military junta, a cover-up seems likely, unless the junta can come across the names of those it sees as political opponents. At the moment, “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and the business community are urging the public not to rush to conclusions and let regulators verify the information first.”

“Verify” sounds like “cover-up” or “manipulate.”

Like the rich everywhere, the first bleat refers to law rather than ethics: “… using offshore company structures is a normal and legal business practice.” Not paying tax is legal they say. In Thailand, tax, like so many other things, is malleable and politicized.

Recall that Thaksin Shinawatra’s sale of the Shin Corp involved tax havens. While he didn’t have to pay tax on the transfers in Thailand, there was an outcry over this, and the opposition to him was strengthened. Now, it seems, things are to be reversed. So much for Buddhist ethics and the “good” of “The Good People.”

The report says there are “almost 400 Thais among 780 individuals who used Thailand as a residence and 50 companies were named on the lists.” While it is stated that “[p]rominent names include well-known business people, politicians, a former military officer and celebrities…”, only a few names are named.

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) observes, “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts and it does not intend to suggest or imply that those named in the leak have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

General Paiboon said “… the leak is not verified information. But once it’s verified, no one can dodge an investigation. So let Amlo [Anti-Money Laundering Office] work on this first…”.

Our question is: Where are Thailand’s journalists who should be working on this? In most other countries, journalists are pouring out stories.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas says “he has seen the list and had proceeded to ask the tax authority to review tax records to detect any possible wrongdoing.” He names no names.

Pisit also suggested that the “Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) can facilitate the probe by acting as a coordinator as it is the hub of 11 anti-corruption agencies.” Some of this group and Pisit were recently part of another cover-up, finding no corruption in the military’s Rajabhakti Park, while making “commissions” acceptable.

Now to some of the names and what they say.

Isara

Isara

One name in the Panama Papers is Isara Vongkusolkit, who is chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. His response was to say that “he did not know and had noting to do with Mossack Fonseca. He was wondering how his name was mentioned on the lists.” Wondering? Really? He doesn’t remember the 2013 report?

He did admit that offshore banking and companies were necessary to avoid taxation in Thailand. He then went on to blame government for tax avoidance because it has had “high” tax rates!

The Vongkusolkit family maintains a tight set of relationships. One Chanin Vongkusolkit is a member of the Council of the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption (CAC), which is:

an initiative by the Thai private sector to take parts in tackling corruption problem via collective action. The CAC aims to bring effective anti-corruption policy and mechanism into implementation by companies in order to create an ecosystem of clean business community.

Forbes says this of Isara and family:

To offset volatility in sugar prices, Isara Vongkusolkit’s privately held Mitr Phol Sugar, Thailand’s largest sugar producer, is expanding its energy business, which generates 400 megawatts of electricity, half for its own consumption. The company, which recently faced allegations of human rights abuses and illegal land- grabbing in Cambodia, said it was in discussions with the Cambodian government about its concessions. Brother Chanin stepped down as CEO of family’s Banpu, the country’s biggest coal miner, after running it for more than 3 decades.

Chanin remains on the Banpu Board of Directors. Others from the family on the Board are Buntoeng and Verajet Vongkusolkit. Australia’s controversial Centennial Coal Centennial is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banpu.

Banpong

Banpong

The point seems to be that Isara and his family are fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons and like their ilk everywhere, seek to “minimize” tax while claiming to engage in ethical business behavior, if that is not an oxymoron.

Another listed is “Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Capital and a member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission, posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was taken aback that his name was on the list.” Like Isara, he claims to not know Mossack Fonseca: “I have just learned of the company today and I never contacted or did any business with Mossack Fonseca…”.

Schultz

Schultz

We are reminded of Sgt. Schultz, again and again. How many times can “I know nothing” be used?

Patra Capital is a “certified” company at the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption and Phatra Capital promulgates a Code of Ethics for Directors, Officers and Employees. In part, it states:

By adhering to exemplary standards and conducting our business with excellence and integrity, we enhance our reputation and cultivate the growth of our business. All of us must take personal responsibility for conducting ourselves in a way that reflects positively on the Capital Market Business Group and with the letter and spirit of the Guidelines for Business Conduct.

Like many of Thailand’s tycoons, Banpong has royal links, his with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. He is also a member of the junta-created Superboard, which is said to be “overseeing all state enterprises has the stated aim of getting them all moving in the same direction towards strength and efficiency.” A Superboard of bankers, coal miners and more means endless conflicts of interest.

Both the Vongkusolkit and Pongpanich families are represented on the Board of Trustees of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute, which has often commented on corruption and ethics in Thailand’s politics.

Bannawit

Bannawit

The last Sgt. Schultz excuse came from Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. The “former deputy defence permanent secretary, whose name is also on the lists, said this came as a surprise to him…. According to the retired officer he never conducted any business transactions overseas or given permission to anyone to use his name to set up offshore accounts.”

Bannawit has appeared previously at PPT as one of “Dad’s Army,” which was an elite forerunner to the more popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee in trying to bring down the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was a member of several other yellow-shirted and royalist groups that sought to create conflict with the Yingluck government. Earlier, he was previously a member of the assembly appointed by the junta in 2006 and then caused controversy when deputy defense minister. He was not averse to very odd and racist claims when opposing red shirts.

Bannawit also seems to have conveniently forgotten the 2013 leaks from the British Virgin Islands. Or perhaps the rich and powerful expect the junta to enforce collective amnesia on the country.

Update: Khaosod has cast doubt on the Bangkok Post story, above, saying that the newspaper (and many others) confused the 2013 leak with the Panama Papers. INterestingly, whether its 2013 or now, nothing in our post would seem in need of change.





Thaksin as ghost

6 04 2016

It seems that The Dictator considers Thaksin Shinawatra an evil and ghostly spirit that haunts the current military dictatorship. The Bangkok Post has published a photo of General Prayuth Chan-ocha, using garlic to drive out Thaksin: “This is for driving out the ghost who has fled abroad.” It seems that the red bowl saga has again bent the general out of shape.

It is noticeable that everything the junta does is a “battle” with the “ghost,” not least the complete restructuring of the political system and the intent to maintain military political supremacy.

Garlic man





16 year sentence in palace lese majeste case

5 04 2016

The Criminal Court has sentenced a “property dealer” to 16 years imprisonment on lese majeste charges. Boontham Boonthepprathan, 65, was reduced by 4 years, to 12 years, for his “useful testimony during the trial.”

He was “charged with causing damage to the monarchy … in connection with his request for title deeds to several hundred rai [700 rai] of land in Khao Nong Chuam area in tambon Khanong Phra of Nakhon Ratchasima’s Pak Chong district during 2007-2008.”

Some parts of the land belonged to the military area and some “were reserved as headwaters for streams, not eligible for inclusion on a title deed.”

It was claimed that “Boontham allegedly claimed he had a good connection with Pol Lt Gen Pongpat Chayapan, a former Central Investigation Bureau commissioner, close to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s palace when the prince was married to the Princess Srirasmi.

Boontham is said to have “cited the royal institution [we assume this means the prince or Srirasmi or both] to persuade Setthawut Pengdit, another “land broker and younger brother of former Department of Investigation chief Tarit Pengdith, to collude with him in applying for land title deeds.”

Boontham Thepprathan was accused of lese majeste in February 2015 and arrested by police on 27 February 2015. He is  reportedly a proprietor of the Colonze massage parlor-entertainment complex-cum-illegal casino and is often described as a property developer.

Boontham joins more than two dozen others accused or convicted of lese majeste in cases related to this royal separation and the purging of the Srirasmi family and associates network.

It appears that this murky deal involved the army, police and “investors” making the land transferable by having the certificates illegally changed to “title deeds” without telling the residents. It is reported that Setthawut had made a “false” claim to land officials, using the name of former Central Investigation Bureau chief Pongpat Chayapan, that the land would be used for a palace.

It is quite a believable scenario that farmers would lose their land to “investors.” It is also conceivable that land could be acquired for a “palace;” this has happened before. That the Army and police would be involved in such deals is quite normal in rural Thailand.

Boontham is reportedly considering an appeal. Given the persons involved, that might not be a good idea.





Talking with the junta

5 04 2016

The New York Times has an AP report that has the United States urging “Thailand to limit the role of its powerful military after the ruling junta gave military officers new police-like powers to arrest and detain criminal suspects.” We guess that “Thailand” means the military junta in this context as it is the only group with any political power in Thailand today.

The State Department is indeed correct to have “voiced concern that Thai authorities issued an order extending the internal policing authorities of the military to seize assets, search premises, and summon, arrest, and interrogate civilians.”

Where we got lost was on a statement by Katina Adams, State Department spokeswoman for East Asia who reportedly said: “We continue to urge the Thai government to limit the role of the military in internal policing and to allow civilian authorities to carry out their duties…. This includes returning the prosecutions of civilians to civilian courts and providing adequate due process and fair trial protections.”

There’s a problem here. There is essentially no distinction that can be made between the “Thai government” and the military junta. To ask the military government to “limit the role of the military” is like asking a bank robber to consider stealing less money. Thailand is a military dictatorship. The military state is embedding itself ever more deeply, and it makes no sense for the United States State Department to distinguish between government and military.

Equally confusing is the AP report’s citing of Human Rights Watch on General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s dictatorship. AP feels the need to render this as “dictatorship.” This implies that there is debate on this term. There shouldn’t be. Thailand remains the world’s only state currently ruled by a military junta. Ipso facto, it is a military dictatorship.

We would hope that the various new agencies see not just the government as a dictatorship but the charter as the military’s tool for authoritarianism and the referendum campaign as a military propaganda exercise.





Army of repression

5 04 2016

As PPT has stated many times, Thailand’s military, and especially the Army, has almost no skills in defending borders. It is a politicized Army or as one academic paper has it, a monarchized military.

To re-emphasize this fundamental fact, according to the Bangkok Post, the “newly-appointed chief of the 2nd Army Region has made raising public awareness about the upcoming charter referendum one of his priorities.”

The 2nd Army Region is in the northeast and is thus critical for the military dictatorship in suppressing opposition and having the junta’s charter pass the already discredited referendum.

Lt Gen Wichai Chaejorhor reportedly “said an urgent task is to educate voters in the Northeast about the draft charter and encourage them to take part in the planned referendum.”

This is juntaspeak for propagandizing for the military’s charter and making sure it passes.

His other two missions were also civil rather than military. First, “to ease the hardship of residents in drought-hit areas…”. This is an area where the military has no particular expertise but usually sends in bulldozers to scrape out ponds and may drill a few wells. In the past, the experience of these is that most fall into disrepair soon after they are constructed. At times they also send drinking water tankers to villages, and this simple task is usually completed (but always with great fanfare and sometimes advertising claiming the water is provided by the king’s kindness).

His second task was to “step up security and road-safety measures during the Songkran festival.” We can’t imagine the military having any role in traffic policing, catching drink drivers or speeders, but perhaps some income is possible for the military hierarchy. We can guess that “security” involves hunting down the purveyors of red bowls.

Propaganda for the royalist elite, the repression of its opponents, corruption and murdering citizens is the stock-in-trade of Thailand’s Army.





Panama papers I

5 04 2016

This Bangkok Post report on the Panama Papers is of interest. PPT is interested in these cases, but have to admit that there is simply too much data for us to handle. If we see informed reports, we will post or if readers have information, let us know.

The Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) is seeking information from its foreign counterparts regarding 21 Thai nationals reportedly included in a list of people worldwide using a Panama-based law firm for money laundering and tax evasion.

(NOTE: It is not clear how Amlo reached this number. In fact, the Panama Papers include at least 780 names of individuals and another 50 names of companies based in Thailand. Some are foreigners or foreign-owned companies. There are 634 individual addresses listed in Thailand.)

Pol Col Seehanat Prayoonrat, the acting Amlo secretary-general, made the comments following a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which cited leaked documents from law firms that have been assisting politicians and leaders worldwide — including the 21 Thai nationals — to carry out the illicit acts.

He said he has so far obtained information only from the media