The monarch’s wealth

8 10 2021

In a very long post at Secret Siam, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has discussed the monarchy’s wealth and its drain on the taxpayer. He puts together an account that draws on multiple sources to assess both aspects.

It is behind a paywall, but if readers can get to it, it is well worth some time going through it.

Some excerpts:

According to an excellent analysis by Prachatai, at least 35.76 billion baht of taxpayer money — well over a billion US dollars — was allocated to the palace in the 2021/22 fiscal year. This represents 1.15 percent of the entire state budget, an extraordinarily vast sum for a country to spend on a supposedly purely symbolic monarchy in the 21st century.

What makes it even more obscene is that the Thai monarchy is already among the wealthiest royal families on the planet, but continues to guzzle taxpayer funds that are desperately needed by ordinary people struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The palace has never been honest about the extent of its wealth, and most media have done an extremely poor job of finding out the facts, so most reporting about the size of the Thai royal fortune is inaccurate and incomplete.

Marshall sets the record straight – or as best as it can be with still limited data. He seems to conclude this on wealth:

Kevin Hewison, one of the foremost experts on the political economy of Thailand, estimated royal wealth at a minimum of $70 billion in his article “Crazy Rich Thais” published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia earlier this year:

Between 2006 and 2019, the ten wealthiest families/groups saw their wealth grow by more than seven times. If that figure is applied to Porphant [Ouyyanont]’s 2005 estimate, the CPB’s wealth in 2018 might have been more than $310 billion. However, because of the CPB’s focus on land and its conservative investment strategies, this is likely to be an overestimate. Using Porphant’s calculations of assets and applying a low 3 percent per year increase for land prices the figure for the CPB in 2019 might be more conservatively put at around $70 billion.

By way of conclusion, Marshall states:

There is no prospect that Vajiralongkorn will agree to reform of the monarchy and greater parliamentary oversight of palace finances. He is implacably opposed to making any concessions. He wants to use the royal fortune however he chooses, and nobody in the regime dares to try to stop him.

But with Thailand facing years of economic pain before it recovers from the damage caused by the coronavirus, and most Thais now aware of Vajiralongkorn’s egregious profligacy, the explosive issue of royal wealth has the potential to bring down the monarchy.





Health honchos

22 08 2021

We at PPT have just seen Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s new Secret Siam column on public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, his wealth and his politics. This is a subscriber-only post, but is well worth a read.

It begins with an extended look at Anutin’s “lavish rural hideaway … Rancho Charnvee,” which is a resort that has rooms that can be booked by the public. With its lavish accommodation, private airport, and 18-hole golf course, it is a landmark to his family’s huge wealth.

Clipped from the Rancho Charnvee website

That wealth “… comes from the family conglomerate Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction, founded in 1952 by his father Chavarat.” The latter:

… was deputy minister of finance from 1996 to 1997 in the disastrous government of prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh that presided over the collapse of the Thai economy, which in turn caused a financial meltdown across Southeast Asia. So the current coronavirus catastrophe is not the first time that a member of the Charnvirakul clan has been in a key government position at a time of crisis and failed woefully to deal with it.

In 2008, Chavarat was back, as Minister of Public Health and then as Deputy Prime Minister under Somchai Wongsawat’s pro-Thaksin Shinawatra People’s Power Party government when it was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on 2 December 2008, in a judicial coup.

The Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the People’s Power Party and other coalition parties, at the same time banning their chief executives. The incumbent Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, was then removed along with several other members of the Cabinet. Chavarat was spared because he was not a party executive or an elected MP. He became caretaker prime minister and sank what remained of the elected government, working with the military to hand over power to Abhisit. The turncoat was rewarded by being appointed Interior Minister in Abhisit’s cabinet, a post he held until 2011. As part of his political treachery Chavarat became the leader of the Bhum Jai Thai Party, a party tied to the dark influence Chidchob family in Buriram. He was succeeded as leader by Anutin in 2012.

Marshall observes that, in 2010, Chavarat “was caught embezzling money from a 3.49 billion baht computer leasing project, and the controversy threatened to tear apart the coalition, but in the end, Abhisit didn’t dare fire him.”

Anutin unmasked. Clipped from Der Farang.

On Anutin, Marshall notes his relationship with Vajiralongkorn:

Anutin was even willing to risk playing the dangerous game of trying to get into the inner circle of the volatile future king Vajiralongkorn. He began donating large sums to the crown prince, and sought to establish himself as a friend of Vajiralongkorn, making regular trips to visit him in Europe. Vajiralongkorn was famously obsessed with flying during this period, spending most of the year staying at the Kempinski Hotel at Munich Airport where he always had at least one personal Boeing 737 parked ready for joyrides in the skies over Europe. Adopting flying as a hobby was a great way for Anutin to bond with his new royal friend.

A leaked secret US cable from 2009 identified Anutin as a new member of Vajiralongkorn’s inner circle….

We wonder how that relationship is today, with Anutin seeking to lay off blame for the Siam Bioscience-AstraZeneca failures while he’s been health minister. How did he get that position? Marshall speculates that: “It’s all because of marijuana.” And the rural-based mafia he represents, who are working to make marijuana a valuable cash crop. Marsall again:

When the pandemic struck, Thailand’s minister of public health was an unqualified political dilettante whose only healthcare experience was making wild claims
about the medical wonders of marijuana.

If readers can, look at the whole story at Secret Siam.

Incidentally, Anutin is not the only minister engaging in heath entrepreneurialism. With scant evidence, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin has promoted the production of green chiretta herbal pills. While there is some evidence about some of the qualities of the product, much of this is from Thai scientists keen to promote herbal medicine. Somsak’s “evidence” comes from giving pills to prison inmates and claiming “results” while clearly misunderstanding how clinical trials operate. The initial use of the pills in prisons came when the virus was raging among prisoners and vaccines were in short supply.

For ministers, there seems to be a profit motive at work rather than science and public service.





Update: Overcoming PR failures

25 07 2021

In many countries, the vaccine rollout has been mired in secret or opaque contracts and quite a few governments have been providing only sparse details about strategies, contracts, and plans. In Thailand, this has been made even more opaque because the AstraZeneca vaccine is produced by the king’s Siam Bioscience, which means that almost no information has been produced and critics repressed.

It has only been in the past week or so that AstraZeneca has released some information, although this also remains vague on details, with the most recent reported in the Bangkok Post.

Vaccine

In essence, the company appears to confirm production problems at Siam Bioscience. It does this when it states that the  company “is ‘scouring’ its global supply chain to try and boost Covid-19 vaccine supplies to Thailand and Southeast Asia…”. It adds: “We are hopeful of importing additional doses in the months ahead…”.

Siam Bioscience, “a first-time vaccine maker,” is said to have “not commented on reports of production shortfalls or delivery timelines.”

So if the monarchy/regime bet that the production of the vaccine would boost the monarch hasn’t worked, and the king and his family have been pretty much invisible for much of the current virus trouble. But, his birthday is upon him and he has to be seen to be doing something.

Out of the blue and from an unlikely source, with the so-called Chulabhorn Royal Academy using Facebook to “announce” a huge royal “donation.”

Of course, the “Academy” also came out of the blue to order a replacement Chinese vaccine to make up for the AZ shortfall. It on-sold the vaccine, but as Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Twitter has shown, the Academy’ has been demanding displays of royal loyalty from those being vaccinated.

But this is small chips compared with its most recent “announcement.”

The Bangkok Post reported that the “Academy” posted that the king had “donated more than 2.8 billion baht for procurement of medical supplies and equipment to support efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.”

A couple of things come to mind. First, usually the Royal Household Bureau makes such announcements or through a Royal Gazette proclamation, so this one strikes us as being unorthodox. Second, the amount is large., but, if our shaky math is right, this “donation” would be about $85 million, amounting to only about 0.12% of his vast fortune (on our figures) or about double that if the usual figure for the king’s wealth is used – $30-35 billion.

On Facebook, the “Academy” claimed that “the the monarch donated the money to hospitals and medical facilities so they can buy medical equipment to deal with the pandemic…”.

If this report is in any way accurate – and often taxpayer funds are claimed as royal funds – then it seems  making up for the PR failures of the recent past is rather expensive.

Knowing the truth, though, is pretty much impossible.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall has had a couple of very useful posts on virus politics at Secret Siam. In particular, related to our post, he points to a Prachatai post in Thai on the king’s “donations.” That article points out that the original “Academy” post was soon removed. It also points out that the figure is not very different from the previous report on royal donations.





Targeting Facebook on anti-monarchism

5 07 2021

About three weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.” We assume he got his orders from higher up because the DES immediately ordered dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours. Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling or pornography sites. But the real target anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Three weeks later and not much has happened apart from the regime getting ever more twitchy, again suggesting that there’s very high-level pressure on them.Facebook-Dislike-Button

As Thai PBS has reported, the regime has resumed its battle with Facebook, over the content it still deceptively claims is “fake news” when they mean sites that provide information about the monarchy:

These accounts – all operated from overseas – are registered to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, his discussion page Royalist Marketplace – Talad Luang, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Suda Rangkupan, Pixel Helper, DK Ning, Aum Neko, and Kon Thai UK. Several of the account owners are wanted in Thailand for lese majeste.

Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is flustered, saying: “Despite negotiations, Facebook has refused to follow orders to block eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”.

He demanded that Facebook “show responsibility towards Thailand’s issues and comply with the country’s regulations, given the fact that Facebook has many users in the Kingdom.”

There’s two things to note here. First, the minister demands that the whole of Facebook follow royalist norms and the regime’s illegitimate use of draconian laws. In other words, he seems to be going beyond the usual demand for geo-blocking of popular anti-monarchy  sites. Second, he seems to be threatening Facebook with exclusion from the Thai market, which would require that the regime descend further down the Chinese road and come up with state-approved, state monitored social media platforms.





Facebook and monarchy panic

25 06 2021

About two weeks ago, it was reported that the regime’s No. 2 had ordered the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society to crack down on “fake news.”

DES sprang into action, ordering dozens of URLs closed within 48 hours.Many of the sites were not really fake news sites, but gambling sites and more significantly, anti-regime and anti-monarchy sites.

Two weeks later and not much has happened.

Now DES Minister Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn “has threatened legal action against Facebook for refusing to close the accounts of users deemed to have disseminated fake news and criticised the monarchy.”

Most of the sites he’s worried about are anti-regime and anti-monarchy.

The regime’s latest tactic in shutting down anti-monarchy sites is to have local courts – fake courts? – rule them illegal. This then permits a “legal” censorship, with DES sending demand “letters to the internet service providers and Facebook in Thailand to make them comply.”

The big concern is for social media accounts that spoof and report on the monarchy: those associated with Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, which have yet to be shut.

Minister Chaiwut lamented: “Despite the negotiations, Facebook has still refused to follow orders to shut down eight accounts. I will bring legal action against Facebook in Thailand and its headquarters…”. He seemed to threaten Facebook’s existence in Thailand: “As there are many users in Thailand, Facebook must also be responsible for the country’s issues, as well as comply with Thai regulations…”.

Watch this space.





Updated: The anti-monarchy virus

5 06 2021

Seemingly worried that the nation lacks herd immunity, the royalist regime is increasing its efforts to prevent infection by the anti-monarchy virus. The latest effort involves enlisting the royalist courts to ban eight social media pages.

The Ministry  of Digital Economy and Society which only seems to work on banning free expression and thought, has had the courts order these pages closed “because their content allegedly violates the Computer Crime Act.” We assume it is not “alleged” as they have been banned.

The Ministry “announced that the Facebook pages of Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Royalist Marketplace, Suda Rangkupan, ป้าหนิง DK, Aum Neko, KTUK and Pixel HELPER will be removed.” The Nation report says “[t]hese pages carried politics-related content and were critical of the Thai government.”

This is not entirely accurate. They have been banned for their anti-monarchy content.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Ministry describes these sites as having “posted fake news…”. Some might suggest that these sites do sometimes post rumors and guesses about the monarchy. But that reflects the medieval secrecy associated with a monarchy that gulps taxpayer funds, regularly intervenes in politics, has an unsavory reputation, and has a nasty, symbiotic relationship with the military.

Thai PBS gets the reason for the ban right, adding that the Ministry “summoned internet providers to acknowledge a court order to block or delete eight Facebook accounts, groups and fan pages, known for their criticism of the Thai monarchy.”

The court order apparently also applies to “[a]ny new or other accounts related to the same users, providing similar content…”.

This is one step in a process of getting Facebook to take down these pages. In an increasing ly authoritarian capitalist world, it seems likely that Facebook will fold. In seeking to enforce royalist silence on the monarchy, a “working committee has also been set up to pressure platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to ban accounts which feature content which violates Thai laws…”. You see the issue here. A mad or medieval regime can have all kinds of regressive laws and thus pressure the huge internet businesses.

In Thailand, the Ministry announces that it “…

© Shutterstock

now gives importance to prosecuting violators to the fullest extent of the law…”. The court order requires ISPs “to remove or block information posted by the individuals on websites and social networks, along with their passwords and IP addresses, from their computer systems.”

The Bangkok Post story cites Sunai Pasuk of Human Rights Watch, who “called the court order a censorship order instructing Facebook to ban critics of the monarchy. That will put a chokehold on people’s ability to express themselves as well as on the social media platform’s open space…”.

The royalist regime believes such a chokehold will prevent the anti-monarchy virus from spreading further.

Update: Prachatai reports:

On 2 June, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society (DES) Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn invited Internet Service Providers to acknowledge a court order to restrict access to or delete computer data of 8 allegedly illegal users on Facebook within 24 hours. Four days on, the pages of the targets remain accessible.





Me, me, me

29 04 2021

Readers might be interested in a story at Yahoo News/The Daily Beast that uses the Secret Siam work of Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

Titled “Thai Princess Shuts Down Koh Samui Beach For Private Vacation as COVID Surges,” the article refers to Princess Sirivannavari’s “less than impeccable timing” as she “decided it’s time for a diving vacation.”

Using Marshall’s reporting, it states that the “brilliant at everything” (our words) Princess has taken off to:

the island paradise of Koh Samui … as the country reels under a virulent third wave of the coronavirus, a disastrous vaccine rollout marred by cronyism, a complete shutdown of the pivotal international tourist trade, and a political crisis that has resulted in a jailed anti-monarchy and pro-democracy campaigner being desperately ill after a 42-day hunger strike.

Of course, she’s already jumped the line and had her vaccine.

The report adds that “Sirivannavari has been gaily sharing images from the holiday on her private Instagram account, which have been published by subscription newsletter Secret Siam.”

It cites Marshall as reporting that:

orange flags bearing Sirivannavari’s royal crest have been raised around the island and that there is a heavy security presence with five naval vessels anchored off local beauty spot Crystal Bay. Sail Rock, between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, widely regarded as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, has been completely closed to all other boats, with local diving companies told to stay away during her trip.

Readers may recall the kerfuffle regarding her earlier trip to the islands, her great love for the islands, even wanting one named after her, and her political bet that celebrity royals can flaunt their prestige, wealth and power without much pushback in royalist Thailand.

Naturally, the lese majeste law and having an authoritarian royalist regime in power supports her chosen lifestyle.





Updated: Mafia regime

26 04 2021

The monarchy-military regime is a mafia regime. We at PPT may not be very worldly, but we can’t think of another regime that has a convicted heroin trafficker as a deputy minister and as a major powerbroker in a ruling party.

Thammanat

Clipped from Khaosod

A Bangkok Post report alerts us to the centrality of convicted drug trader Thammanat Prompao to the Palang Prachachart Party’s electoral profile and successes. Thammanat has been assigned by Gen Prawit Wongsuwan to destroy coalition partner the Democrat Party’s electoral base in the south of the country.

The party mafia is using state funds to do this by appointing Thammanat “to supervise a national centre for Covid-19 coordination” with “particular attention to the southern provinces of Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phuket,” all Democrat Party strongholds..

The Democrat Party leader “said the move may be designed to pave a path for the PPRP to eat into the Democrat stronghold in the future.”

Crooks have big appetites.

Update: Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Secret Siam also has a post on the regime’s mafia links. This story relates to the regime’s coalition partner, the Bhum Jai Thai Party. Well worth reading.





Violence and double standards II

3 03 2021

As there was a couple of weeks ago, there’s again some banter about protesters and violence in the mainstream media.

With 22 protesters arrested and some 30 officially reported as injured, two-thirds of them police, Khaosod says some activists are again questioning “tactics” and especially the idea of a “leaderless” protest.

Meanwhile, the Thai Enquirer has a completely different story, while sounding like a throwback to the Cold War, writing of “pro-Marxist” protesters and blaming “Free Youth leaders” for violence. It says that Free Youth’s advice to protesters speaks of its “violence” for telling protesters in advance to “wear face mask and running shoes but no jewelry, necklace or contact lens and to cover their face with disguises…, [recommending] protestors … bring security helmet, gas mask, thick gloves, first aid kit and other protest equipment.”

As far as we can tell, that seems pretty standard advice to protesters since last year.

In the two reports there’s only one photo of a protester being aggressive towards police – throwing a plastic water bottle. There are quite a few photos of police firing weapons, which tends to suggest that Thai Enquirer’s claim that “photos and videos of confrontations will only support the government and police claims that the pro-democracy protestors are violent when the majority of them are not” is not quite correct. But this kind of advocacy is naive and dangerously close to supporting a regime with decades of anti-civilian violence in it DNA.

A little bit of fishing around produces a report of a journalist arrested and charged, and evidence of the authorities’ use of rubber bullets. PPT watched the protest on livestreaming and there was very little violence in evidence. That may be because the police again restricted the activities of journalists or it may be that those doing the livestreaming were in the wrong place when there was violence elsewhere. That said, there was plenty of ducking and diving when the police fired off their weapons.

It is also noticeable that social media has shown pictures of people in plainclothes throwing items at protesters and video of plainclothes police and military dressed like protesters:

As Andrew MacGregor Marshall points out at Secret Siam, these were mostly “soldiers sent by the palace supposedly to protect royal buildings.”

It is noticeable that in the mainstream media’s reporting, there’s almost no information on what the protesters wanted and why they marched. Prachtai fills the gap:

The protest, which was called by the activist group Free Youth movement, now known as REDEM (Restart Democracy), started at the Victory Monument before marching to the 1st Infantry Regiment to demand that prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha move out of army housing, as he retired from the army in 2014. The group also said that electricity and water bills for the army housing are paid for with taxpayer money.

The 1st Infantry Regiment, King’s Close Bodyguard, was also one of the army units recently transferred to King Vajiralongkorn’s personal control. The group is therefore demanding that the control of the army units be transferred out of the King’s control.

REDEM also calls for the monarchy’s power to be limited, for the military to stay out of politics, and for universal state welfare.

These demands are aligned with those made several months ago. The emphasis on the king’s arguably unlawful control of military units is not discussed in the mainstream media.





Secret Siam

19 01 2021

Secret Siam is a new paid subscription blog by Andrew MacGregor Marshall. PPT readers may be interested. Here’s his blurb on the new venture:

Why should I subscribe?
Thailand has been convulsed by an unprecedented uprising against the monarchy and military by a new generation demanding democracy, equal rights and freedom of speech. It’s a 21st century struggle being fought on social media as well as the streets of Bangkok, and it reverberates far beyond the country’s borders. The kingdom has become a key battleground on the front lines of global resistance against authoritarianism.

The escalating rebellion is a new chapter of an old conflict. In 1932, a bloodless revolution ended centuries of absolute monarchy in Siam. It was heralded as the dawn of democracy in the kingdom, but royalists never accepted defeat and have been fighting ever since to restore the primacy of the palace. It’s a struggle that has defined the destiny of modern Thailand, plunging the kingdom into a cycle of coups and confrontations it has never managed to escape. It’s still being fought today.

Most analysis of Thailand barely mentions this at all, because telling the truth about Thai politics and history is illegal. The country has the most draconian lèse majesté law in the world. Expressing anything less than unquestioning adulation for the monarchy can get you jailed for years. Most journalists and academics understandably prefer to steer clear of the subject as much as possible.

This means much of what is written about Thailand is misleading or inadequate, because to explain what’s going on you need to address the role of the monarchy in the kingdom’s turbulent history and politics. So that is what I will do in this newsletter. I hope to make Secret Siam the best resource for anyone who wants to get the full uncensored story of what is happening in Thailand. I will not be ignoring the elephant in the room. This newsletter is about the elephant in the room — the monarchy and its role in the long conflict that has destabilised the country for decades.

I’ll be covering all sides of the conflict — not just the antics of the palace, the military and politicians, but also the plans and strategies of the protesters. And although I will focus mostly on current events I will also be regularly writing about past chapters in Thai history, to show how old events are still influencing the political drama today.

The newsletter will be useful for analysts, journalists, investors, academics and diplomats, but above all it is aimed at everybody who cares about Thailand and wants to stay updated with the most comprehensive and accurate information available.

What’s included in the subscription?
Although I will be sharing content free from time to time, to receive most issues of the newsletter you will have to pay for a subscription. It’s $5 a month, or $50 per year. The reason I am charging is because a lot of work goes into my journalism on Thailand, and this is the only way I can make it financially sustainable.

Subscribers will receive at least two newsletters in your e-mail inbox each week. Every Monday, I will share a comprehensive roundup and analysis of the events of the previous week, with links to recommended articles published elsewhere as well as my own commentary. Every Friday I will publish a detailed original article focusing on interesting aspects of Thai politics, history or culture.

When there are major breaking developments, I’ll aim to publish updates and analysis in real time as events unfold.

Subscribers can also access the entire archive of past articles at the Secret Siam website, and you can post comments in the discussion area.

So if you think Secret Siam sounds interesting, please consider subscribing!








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