All that money and the Crown Property Bureau

28 07 2017

No one who has decided that monarchy matters in Thailand will be happy about the headline recently at the ASEAN Economist: “Clown king nears crisis point.”

Taylor McDonald’s piece uses material from Andrew MacGregor Marshall, now described as a “veteran observer of the Thai monarchy,” and apparently drawn from a recent BBC interview. Marshall, who previously argued that there was a succession crisis in Thailand, is cited in this report as declaring that “the situation was becoming increasingly unsustainable.” He is quoted as believing that as “details of the king’s lifestyle spread, the kingdom was approaching a ‘crisis point’…”.

We are not sure that there is any more crisis now than over the last decade or so, although Marshall’s account of the king’s cruelty, womanizing and his grab for power while re-feudalizing the palace are all undoubted, we have yet to see “crisis.” Some speculate that the crisis comes after the previous king is cremated.The article makes this point:

How much longer Thailand’s inflexible generals will tolerate Vajiralongkorn as their head of state will have to be seen. He will no doubt go down, along with the Emperor Caligula, as a key case study used by republicans arguing against constitutional monarchy.

While we may hope that this king gets the boot, the fact is that the deep political change needed in Thailand – an end to the monarchy – remains unlikely. That’s our speculation.

But to the point of this post. What caught PPT’s attention in the article were comments about the Crown Property Bureau.

The article states: “A close aide of Thailand’s King … Vajiralongkorn was this month named head of the agency which manages the monarchy’s vast holdings after legal changes giving the king total control of the Crown Property Bureau.”

About a week or so ago, secretly considered changes to the law governing the CPB were announced, giving the king absolute command over it. That change, the article notes, mean it is no longer possible for royalist regimes to claim the CPB is not the king’s but held “in trust for the nation.”

The CPB website continues to allow the download of a chapter on crown property in the palace-approved book King Bhumibol Adulyadej. A Life’s Work, which begins the chapter this way:

Since 1936, the law has made a clear distinction between property that belongs to the king as a person and that which belongs to the crown as an institution. The Crown Property Bureau (CPB) exists to manage the property of the crown. This property does not belong to the king in his private capacity, but to the monarchy as an institution which continues from reign to reign. This rather special category of property arose when an absolute monarchy, under which the king was lord over his realm and everything in it, both people and property, evolved into a constitutional monarchy that exists within a vibrant globalised economy.

By legal definition, the CPB is a juristic person. It is not part of the palace administration, nor is it a government agency, nor is it a private firm. It is a unique institution. It is also a rather mysterious institution.

The distinction between crown and person is now removed by the changes made by the military junta, responding to the king’s demand.

A later part of the chapter is about The Crown Property Act of 1948 which:

… reconstituted the CPB as a juristic person, independent of government and not placed under any ministry. The minister of finance remained as the ex-officio chairman of the CPB board. Other board members were to be appointed by the king. One of these would hold the post of director-general of the CPB and have full executive power.

That was also changed a couple of weeks ago. Now the king has control of the CPB. As the article states, this change “removes any pretence that the assets are for anything other than the private use of the eccentric king.”

Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol is now the “chair the bureau, a role which was previously held by the finance minister.” The report states that “Satitpong is Vajiralongkorn’s long-serving private secretary and was put in charge of the king’s private property in January.” The linking of the king’s private property and that of the crown, long a fiction in reality but maintained in law, is now gone, giving Vajiralongkorn control over a vast economic empire. PPT estimates that the CPB controls assets of about $55-60 billion and his personal property is likely to be at least another $10 billion.

The changes at the CPB go further, with the king putting other trusted favorites on its board. The table below shows the board before and after the change. THe sources are the 2016 Annual Report by the CPB (it can be downloaded) and the Thai version of the CPB’s webpage on the Board of Directors:

As can be seen, those added are all former or current military and police officers, all of whom have been close to the prince-now-king and have seen promotions under his new reign.

We can return to Marshall’s comments. He says that the king “seems determined to reassert the rule of monarchy and he doesn’t want all these rules and regulations … he wants everyone to know that he controls the money…”. He’s got that. He also notes that the “king is notoriously spendthrift.” That’s true and he now has a huge pile of loot to use.

We recall that the monarchy and state were almost bankrupted when King Vajiravudh governed through cronies and was spendthrift. It remains to be seen whether Vajiralongkorn will cause the same level of disquiet that was seen under Vajiravudh and which inexorably led to the 1932 Revolution.





Updated: King’s power

18 07 2017

For some time there have been rumors that King Vajiralongkorn was seeking to take full control of the Crown Property Bureau. A Royal Gazette announcement on the weekend and reports in the Thai and international media make that takeover official.

Interestingly, the takeover of the CPB by the king was discussed by Andrew MacGregor Marshall in his book A Kingdom in Crisis. He said:

The prospect of Thaksin [Shinawatra] and the crown prince using the vast wealth of the Crown Property Bureau to transform Thailand and elevate a new ruling class at the expense of the old terrifies the oligarchy that runs the country.

If the oligarchs were terrified, half of that prediction have now come about. The Thaksin part of the equation seems to have been nullified by the 2014 coup and the military dictatorship’s efforts to destroy Thaksin and other identified enemies of regime, crown and tycoons.

At least that’s what they must be hoping.

Khaosod reports that the puppet National Legislative Assembly has passed a new law on the control of the Crown Property Bureau. (We assume that the NLA again met in secret session to do this deal for the king. We assume this because the previous new laws made following demands from the king have been made secretly.)

This new legislation, passed on Sunday, gives the king “sole authority over royal assets.” This is claimed to be the first change made to the law since 1948.

Whereas previously the Ministry of Finance and its minister had nominal roles in managing the CPB and its board of directors, this is now gone. Now, “the power to appoint a board of directors to manage the crown property rests solely with King Vajiralongkorn, and not a government official as delineated in previous laws.”

As Khaosod notes, this is the “latest move by the military government to cement King Vajiralongkorn’s control over palace affairs.”

Yet it is far more than this. Allowing for the growth of property prices, the CPB probably controls assets of $40-60 billion. Arguably, it is the most powerful and wealthiest conglomerate in the country.

The king now controls this mammoth business empire. More importantly, the new law also “prohibits any effort to take away any part of the royal assets without the king’s approval.” This provision has potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the monarchy and further reduces the state’s authority over the monarchy.

The king now controls all aspects of the monarchy’s wealth and power, and in legal terms, he is now the most powerful monarch since 1932 and, on paper, is more or less independent of the state’s control that was established in 1932 and the years after.

As an AFP report notes, this is the “latest move by an increasingly assertive monarch to consolidate his power.”

While the previous king relied on networks of influential alliances, the power of the military and a personal capacity to politically intervene when he deemed this necessary, the new king is acknowledging his unpopularity and has joined with the military junta to consolidate and expand the monarchy’s economic and political power.

Update: Reuters adds some further detail to this change. It notes that the changes to the law “places the management of crown property under the direct supervision of the king. It states that the bureau’s properties, in addition to the king’s private properties, will be managed ‘at His Majesty’s discretion’.” It allows the king to “assign the Crown Property Bureau, any individual or agency to manage the properties and assets.”

Clearly the old claim that the CPB was not exactly the monarch’s property is out the window. The king’s personal property is indistinguishable from that of the CPB.

Interestingly, “Crown property, but not the king’s private property, had previously been exempted from tax,” and the “amended law says both could now be subject to tax, though it did not elaborate,” suggesting that there’s plenty of wriggle room.





Dealing with anti-monarchism

15 05 2017

The king is an unpredictable egoist with unprecedented powers (at least over the last 85 years). Yet the military junta has placed almost all of its chips in his hands. They will come to regret this political decision, and they probably already are.

The king has been demanding and grasping of power. His moves are coming under increasing criticism.

All the junta seems to be able to do is try to blot out all of the political and personal stains. Such actions make regime opponents lightening rods for all the information that is anti-monarchy and anti-junta. This is especially so when the junta announces who its opponents are by “banning” them.

From AMM’s Facebook page

PPT looked through some of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s recent Facebook posts, and he has material that suggests the king continues to behave in ways that suggest a remarkable disconnect from reality.

Marshall posts some pictures that suggest the king continues to behave towards and with his consorts as he did in the past.

Best known was the video that showed his former wife naked before him. Of course, he had previously made soft porn photos of his wives and consorts.

Such behavior leads to increased opposition and political frustration. Here, too, Marshall has some recent material, suggesting attacks on royal propaganda.

He posted the above picture of presumably politicized attacks on royal symbols.

The junta’s response if to double down, and Marshall has more on this.

From AMM’s Facebook page

Marshall is chronicling some important events and that is one reason why the junta needs to block the information he receives and broadcasts.





No laughing matter

13 05 2017

The military junta has laid its bets on King Vajiralongkorn for ensuring the future of the monarchy and the system of hierarchy, privilege and wealth it underpins.

Nothing about the king can be a laughing matter.

Yet the junta knows the king is erratic and demanding, as well as odd in his demands and personal foibles. He’s also showing he’s a political neanderthal, which might be expected of a monarch, but when combined with his other traits and limited intelligence, that makes him dangerous and unpredictable.And probably not very funny.

Some of that may have said about his father, but that king was young and subject to controls by the military, mother and old princes. Once the palace propaganda was put in place for that king, in the popular imagination, he became a polymath and a savvy politician.

By the time the military was firmly in the hands of leaders who got to the top simply by their capacity for royal ego polishing, the king and palace became a locus of political power.

That’s why the dictators have been so desperate to ban and erase all of the foibles associated with Vajiralongkorn. That’s not easy when he spends a lot of time overseas, behaving oddly. Seeking a kind of Chinese firewall without the investment, the military junta is trying to bully ISPs and international corporations into doing their censorship.

Yet that is making the situation worse. Ham-fisted censorship makes a nonentity king reigning in a relatively small and unimportant country become international news of the tabloid variety.

Among a range of other channels, VICE News recently got interested, stating:

Facebook has blocked users in Thailand from accessing a video that shows the country’s king strolling through a German shopping mall wearing a crop-top revealing his distinctive tattoos, accompanied by one of his mistresses.

Asking what was in the video banned by Facebook, VICE posted it. The report states the king was filmed while shopping at:

Riem Arcaden mall in Munich on June 10, 2016….  The video shows Vajiralongkorn walking through the shopping mall, with a woman who is believed to be one of his mistresses, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, aka Koi. The king’s bodyguards are also visible in the video.

The junta “banned” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul for posting some of this kind of material and then rushed about arresting seven people in Thailand and accused them of sharing posts or liking them when they were considered by the junta as defaming of the king. Odd that, for the king is the one dressing up as some kind of anime character and prancing about public places with a concubine.

This has caused even wider publicity to royal shenanigans and the junta’s remarkable desperation to defend the king’s “honor” and “reputation.”

The junta holds few good cards, but is betting even more of its treasure on the “protection” of the king. They prefer to show him dressed in full military uniform, accompanied by a uniformed woman who is, at least for the moment, his official consort or the No. 1 wife.

Meanwhile, in the king’s preferred home, in Germany, the publicity provided by the junta’s actions, arrests and threats to Facebook have brought considerable attention to the royal immigrant ensconced in Tutzing (when he’s in Munich).

That leads to television reports that make the king appear weird, guaranteeing even more scrutiny and sharing; exactly what the dopes at the junta think they are preventing.

Even without German, a viewer gets the message. The junta doesn’t. For them, covering up for the king is no laughing matter. It is protecting their bread and butter, and they want lots of it on their plates.





A message to the king redux

4 05 2017

In an earlier post we nicked a video found at Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s Facebook page and posted it to get wider attention.

It featured Junya Yimprasert speaking at the front of the king’s residence in Tutzing, near Munich and the use of a replica 1932 revolution plaque.

We understood that the king had already left for Bangkok when the women arrived for this ceremony. That is said to be incorrect and that he was still in Germany.

For those who have trouble with Facebook, here’s the statement at an open source:





With 3 updates: Lese majeste arrests in stolen democracy plaque case

3 05 2017

We recently posted on the abductions conducted by the military dictatorship’s official thugs.  That post mentioned that the military had detained, incommunicado, two political dissidents.

One was human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul who has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law. The other was Danai (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a political dissident from Chiang Mai, initially reported to be accused of Facebook messages critical of the military junta.

Those abductions have now morphed into lese majeste cases against these two and four others.

According to a report at Prachatai, the Criminal Court has permitted the detention of “six people accused of royal defamation for sharing a Facebook post from an academic who the junta has blacklisted.” That was said to be Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

When the “ban” on contact with Somsak, Andrew MacGregor Marshall and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, many scoffed that enforcing the ban was likely illegal and difficult to enforce.

But legalities and formalities have never been a barrier to the lawless military dictatorship.

So it is that, on 3 May 2017, Bangkok’s Criminal Court “granted police custody over six people accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.” Those six were abducted “by police and military officers across different parts of the nation in late April.”

Apart from Prawet and Danai, the ” identities of the four other detainees remain unknown.”

Prachatai states that lawyer Arnon Nampa says “the six are accused of lèse majesté for sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque posted by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an academic currently living in self-imposed exile in France.”

Arnon says that “Prawet is also accused of Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law.”

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship is determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

The court allowed an initial “custody period of 12 days with the possibility of renewal by the court.”

The notion of “possibility” is banal; we all know that the royalist courts want quick convictions but are prepared to do whatever the junta wants and will keep people in jail as long as necessary to get “confessions.” When there is no “confession,” cases drag on as a form of torture.

No investigations, let alone arrests, have occurred for the theft and vandalism of the 1932 plaque. Rather, the junta has covered up and silenced questions. They are the best “confessions” we have seen in this case.

What’s next for feudal Thailand? Public executions and anti-royalist’s heads on stakes in front of the palace?

Update 1: PPT rewrote bits of the account above for initial poor expression and the omission of Somsak’s name in one place. No changes were made to the known facts and allegations in the case.

Update 2: An AFP story has more on this case. It says that Prawet faces “a maximum 150 years in prison after he was charged with a record ten counts of royal defamation…”.

On Wednesday afternoon Prawet “appeared in court charged with ten counts of royal defamation and a separate charge of sedition.”

Each account of lese majeste carries a maximum of 15 years in jail. That’s 150 years. The sedition charge can add another seven years in jail.

The report states that “[t]en royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law become increasingly used.” (This means since the 2006 military coup, and especially since the 2014 military seizure of state power.)

The report also adds that “[i]t is not known what Prawet said or wrote. However media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory.”

Update 3: The Bangkok Post has reported these cases and adds further details. It states that Prawet faces 10 separate counts of lese majeste and three separate counts of sedition. That means he potentially gets 171 years in a royal jail.

The reports states that the normally outspoken “spokesman for the military government said he was unable to comment on the case.” That’s because it involves the king and not just in the usual way. Here the king seems to have been connected to the original crime (the un-investigated theft).

Prawet, who is “accused of posting 10 messages insulting the monarch and three messages with content believed to instigate social disorder,” continues to be detained “incommunicado at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok, a facility the military uses as a temporary prison.”

Prawet has denied the allegations. So has Danai “but the details of [his] alleged wrongdoings were not outlined in the police submission…”. The secrecy is a part of the Thai (in)justice system and raises questions about the legality of his detention (not that the junta is ever worried about law and legality).

The report also reveals that three other suspects “admitted they shared messages of Thammasat University historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul on Facebook pages, which concern the controversial disappearance of the 1932 Siamese Revolution plaque from the Royal Plaza…. The other suspect denied the accusations.”





Updated: More lese majeste censorship

26 04 2017

The military junta is again exercised by lese majeste, suggesting they may be getting a boot in the backside from the new and the easily annoyed king.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, a regulator, and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society which is actually a censorship ministry, have, according to the Bangkok Post, “reiterated their demand that all internet service providers (ISPs) and international internet gateway providers block webpages and content that contain or promote illegal acts or breach Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law.”

“Illegal acts” usually mean things like sedition, gambling and pornography, but previous bouts of blocking and censoring have mostly been about lese majeste.

The junta has demanded that these agencies do more to protect the tawdry reputation of the king. It wants ISP cooperation “to remove illicit video streaming on Facebook and YouTube from their local network server, called a content delivery network (CDN).”

Takorn Tantasith, the NBTC secretary-general, opined that there’s been “good cooperation between the regulator and the ministry” but that “the government [he means military junta] hopes for more, and expects better result by next month…”.

Takorn is dutifully and enthusiastically calling for “serious cooperation” from ISPs and international internet gateway (IIGs) providers to “block webpages … after receiving a court order or when their own monitoring staff finds such [offending] material.” He demands that they “immediately inform the NBTC or DE if they cannot block a webpage due to it being encrypted overseas.” When that happens, these agencies again say they will “ask cooperation from embassies and the Foreign Ministry…”.

A more difficult area is when content they don’t like derives from “online video or video streaming stored with ISP servers in country on their CDN or cache server.”

It also seems that the Ministry and the NBTC are “reiterating their warning to people not to ‘follow’ or correspond with three well-known opponents of the regime, who are now living overseas.” This means exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, exiled political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun and journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

This military dictatorship has tied itself to the monarchy, meaning that, at least for the time being, it will reflect the views from the king, and he has shown that he is intolerant and violent.

Update: Prachatai has background on the NBTC’s new role on censoring streaming and online video. It also has information on a probably related piece of legislation that gives police the right to intercept communications. Welcome to the new reign (of terror).