Koi is gone

4 08 2022

Andrew MacGregor Marshall has a new Secret Siam post “Koi gone.” Marshall doesn’t answer the burning question: What has happened to Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, known as Koi, the king’s official concubine?

She’s been gone from public view since 5 December 2021. No one is saying what has happened to her. She was there one day and then she disappeared. Her unexplained disappearance is not something usually associated with “celebrities” in the modern world. It is strange. But so is the Thai royal family.

If he can’t say what has happened to her, Marshall puts together the story of Koi as it is currently known. It will be of interest for many who follow the erratic Vajiralongkorn. Here’s some of the conclusion to Marshall’s account:

The royals finally returned to Europe in November 2021, taking over much of the airport hotel in Munich for their mandatory two weeks of coronavirus quarantine. They made day trips to Thailand on November 20 for the changing of the clothes of the Emerald Buddha, and on December 5 for the birthday of the late King Bhumibol.

The December 5 visit was the last time Koi has been seen in public. She has been missing for eight months. Here is the last image we have of her.

It remains unknown what happened during December last year between Vajiralongkorn and Koi….

The king flew back to Bangkok via Zurich on December 28 for Taksin Day, bringing [Queen] Suthida but — very unusually — not Koi, who stayed in Bavaria. He planned to stay in Thailand less than two weeks.

We are PPT don’t think it is certain that Koi remained in Bavaria.

But the plans were repeatedly changed…. Clearly there was some turbulence in the palace, with plans being changed so frequently.

Eventually, Vajiralongkorn decided he was not going to return to his pleasure palace in Bavaria for now. He has not been back to Germany since December and has not seen Koi since then.

The real reason [for Koi’s disappearance], royal sources say, is that Koi’s ambitions were causing so much conflict that Vajiralongkorn became increasingly angry and bored of the drama. Surprisingly, Suthida seems to have won the power struggle for now, with the help of Bajrakitiyabha and Sirivannavari….

On July 28 [2022], the royals gathered to mark Vajiralongkorn’s 70th birthday. It was exactly three years since he had anointed Koi his royal noble consort, but she was nowhere to be seen.

For the moment, Koi is gone.





Further updated: Secret Siam’s Bavarian rhapsody

28 01 2022

For all things on planes, travel, women and Vajiralongkorn, Andrew MacGregor Marshall has it all compiled in a recent Secret Siam post. It is incredibly long and has the feel of a chapter from a book. So much is crammed into its many pages that we can only suggest that those who crave all the details take out a subscription. Otherwise, follow Marshall on Twitter and Facebook for titbits.

Update 1: In a related development, Vajiralongkorn has again re-arranged his palace. While PPT follows royal stuff, we don’t really understand the significance of the changes. Maybe a reader knows? With Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi/Koi’s birthday passing and her not being seen, maybe there’s a purge going on? Who knows? It’s all secret.

Update 2: Marshall’s post has now been made free to view.





Welcome back II

1 01 2022

Thai Newsroom has this report on the recent royal security breach:

IN WHAT WAS SEEN AS A RARE occurrence, a Laotion woman unexpectedly approached His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn at Wongwian Yai on Tuesday, police said.

The Laotian woman, namely Saichai Thayalap, 44, was quickly brought out of the scene after she ran from a crowd on the street to a few metres from the monarch who just stepped out of an automobile at King Taksin the Great monument where he attended a homage-paying ceremony marking the Day of King Taksin the Great.

At one instance as the Laotian was unexpectedly approaching, the monarch took a few steps back while his entourage members scrambled to take her away. The royal rituals at the monument proceeded as scheduled.

The woman who was accompanied by a son of hers to the venue and mingled with the well-wishing crowd who repeatedly shouted ”Long Live the King” was known to have emigrated from Savannakhet province of Laos in 2016.

She was treated as a mentally deranged person at a nearby Somdej Chao Phraya hospital on the Thonburi side of the capital, the police said.

She told the police she had telephoned the monarch and used Line to contact him. The police also found her cellphone containing many pictures of the monarch.

Andrew McGregor Marshall’s Facebook page has several videos of the event.





Updated: Another lese majeste debate

10 11 2021

The king seems to think the threat to his throne has been seen off. According to reports from Andrew MacGregor Marshall at Facebook, the king and his extensive entourage of women, servants, minions, and other hangers-on, he’s back in Germany.

Yet, it is reported that, in under a week, more than 120,000 people have signed a petition to parliament calling for the repeal the infamous and draconian lese majeste law (see also a Prachatai story on this petition).

That will cause consternation among the military leadership and the former military leaders leading the regime but we suspect that they also feel that their lawfare approach has worked, with several leaders of the protests jailed without bail and thousands of others, arrested, harassed and repressed.

But an ongoing debate on lese majeste strikes at the heart of the regime’s political ideology.

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk writes that last week’s “unprecedented flurry of reactions both in support and opposition to amending the controversial lese majeste law” means it is likely to “turn the next general elections into a de facto referendum on the law…”. That’s the last thing the palace wants – as Thaksin Shinawatra quickly determined – and it isn’t what the regime and its shaky party want.

Despite facing multiple lese majeste charges, Thaksin has always sucked up to royals; it seems in the genes of big shots brought up during the last reign. That’s why it was a surprise when, “just hours after the renewed major protest by monarchy-reform groups [to] reiterate their year-long call and started a signature drive for the abolition of the law … the opposition Pheu Thai Party’s chief of strategic committee Chaikasem Nitisiri issued a statement … saying the party supports pushing for the proposal to be debated in parliament.”

Thaksin nixed that. Regime and its associated parties were suitably unimpressed, standing up for the status quo.

The royalist Democrat Party declared Article 112 unproblematic, blaming the students and other protesters for the debate that is not needed. It is what is expected of a party founded by vindictive royalists and populated by royalists today. One of them babbled:

The lese-majeste law is not problematic as distorted and claimed by those calling for the amendment by the parliament… If it’s tabled for the parliament we shall fight. We support strict enforcement of the law….

The opposition parties, like Move Forward talk amendment rather than abolition, but the activist fire under them wants the law gone.

Pravit is enthusiastic about the debate:

To amend or not amend the lese majeste law, or even to abolish it, is a much needed debate and we can start on the right foot by trying to be more honest about where the different groups stand. The perpetuation of a state of self-denial will not do Thailand any good.

Royalists are livid and want no debate, no changes, no nothing (as usual).

The Bangkok Post reported that Suwit Thongprasert, better known as the fascist former monk and political activist Buddha Isara, has “submitted a petition to the parliament president to oppose any moves to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law.”

He and representatives of the so-called People’s Army Protecting the Monarchy claim 222,928 signatures supporting their ultra-royalism. They also oppose amending Article 116, the sedition law. Articles 112 and 116, along with computer crimes laws are the main lawfare statutes used by the regime to stifle political dissent.

Like all royalists and the regime itself, the fascist former monk “insisted that the monarchy has been one of the main pillars of the country, a source of Thai culture and tradition, and a unifying force for the Thai people.” Blah, blah, blah palace and rightist propaganda.

The royalists face off against the Progressive Movement which is campaigning “for people to sign an online petition seeking to amend Section 112.”

According to Thai PBS, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is predictably opposed to any amendment:

Deputy Government Spokesperson Rachada Dhnadirek said today (Thursday) that the prime minister told his cabinet that his government will not amend the law and will run the country by upholding the three main pillars, namely the Nation, the Religion and the Monarchy.

She said that the prime minister would like to assure the Thai people that this is the administration’s position.

He was quoted to have said about this controversial issue yesterday, “Every country has longstanding cultures and traditions. No one thinks all the good in our past should be erased in favour of the new, created without rules. We shouldn’t be destroying what all Thais hold in high regard.”

The regime’s party is uniting against change. The Bangkok Post reports that Thipanan Sirichana, who is attached to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat Office says it is “impossible to repeal Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law, both in technicality and spirit, and doing so runs counter to the constitution…”. Thipanan insists that Section 6, “that the monarch holds a position of reverence which is inviolable” translates to an impossibility of amending or ditching the law.

That’s looney, but in this atmosphere being mad is a credential for ultra-royalism.

Interestingly, though Thipanan sees campaigning against the law as a campaign tool, suggesting that she knows there’s considerable support for change and reform.

Bangkok Post’s Chairith Yonpiam, an assistant news editor, writes that:

Right-wing conservative factions will have to learn, albeit with a sense of disappointment, that demands to change Section 112 will remain a key point in the drive to reform the monarchy, in what appears to be a long-haul political endeavour.

The calls to modify Section 112 are nothing new. They surfaced in the latter period of King Rama IX’s reign, and have now become predominant.

Sensibly, Chairith reminds readers of earlier efforts to reform or abolish 112, focusing on Nitirat which also had a lese majeste reform petition to parliament back in 2012. Back then, dark forces were unleashed against the university lawyers. One of the major voices denouncing Nitirat and threatening reformists was, of course, Gen Prayuth, then army commander.

Charith is correct to observe that:

The abuse of democratic rule with the launch of the military-sponsored 2017 charter by Gen Prayut and conservative elites, who branded themselves as staunch royalists, propelled calls for the reform of the monarchy, which have become louder in parliament and on the street.

He notes that “politics as we used to know it has changed, as it is no longer dominated by politicians. This is because people are aware that political conflicts have affected all elements in society and reform is necessary.”

His view is that: “Amending Section 112 is absolutely necessary to prevent the abuse of this draconian law.”

Amending this feudal law is not enough. Too many have suffered. Get rid of it. Vajiralongkorn and his mad monarchists are facing determined and growing opposition. Intimidation will be the royalist response, but that is likely to further expand the opposition to royalism and the regime.

Update: Thaksin has said more on lese majeste, seemingly contradicting his earlier position that 112 was “problem-free.” Now he’s saying “the 15-year maximum jail sentence for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code is too harsh. The law must be amended to lower the punishment as a matter of urgency.” He stated: “We need to figure out how to keep the punishment from being too heavy,” adding that those detained under the law “must be granted the right to bail.”





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.








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