Who got the loot?

24 11 2015

Despite the Army’s claims to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that some at the very top of the Army have made personal fortunes from corrupt activities. In this sense, the relatively small amounts skimmed from the one-billion-baht Rajabhakti Park project are just a part of a long-standing corruption in the military.

As we keep saying, if you look at their assets declarations, almost every single member of the current junta has assets that far exceed what might be expected from their official salaries. No one ever seems to investigate these revelations of “unusual wealth.”

The Rajabhakti Park project offers yet another opportunity to scrutinize the top brass’s capacity for corruption.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[p]ressure is mounting on the army after graft watchdogs signalled they would start an external investigation…”.

The next National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) meeting is going to come under huge pressure to drop this idea. The pressure will come from Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

The NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak states that the agency “has been gathering facts on the park for the last two weeks.” The NACC may whitewash as well, but that remains unclear at this point.

The NACC is supported by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) which “will write to the army Tuesday, urging it to let external bodies examine details of the construction of Rajabhakti Park.”

ACT secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol said “[t]oo little information has been released to the public…”.

Army commander Theerachai Nakvanich has tried to cover up the investigations and has stated that “there was no need for other agencies, including the NACC, to investigate the case…”.

Prawit has mumbled something about the NACC probing the Rajabhakti Park project “if there are grounds for an investigation.” But he was clear that no one should investigate junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr. He stated: “No press briefing is needed. Let the army handle the issue [regarding the press]…”.

In another Bangkok Post report, Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda “has advised the army to spend its budget well, because it is not rich.” Maybe he means not rich enough?

His speech, however, did deem a warning to the junta: “mature adults must possess moral integrity as a safeguard against corrupt practices and any temptation to take advantage of others.”

There seem few such adults in Thailand’s military, police or business sector. Even the palace seems unable to enter adulthood as defined by Prem.

Barbarians on campus

22 11 2015

The headline is from an excellent Bangkok Post Spectrum article by Nanchanok Wongsamuth that comments at length on the intimidation of students and faculty at Thai universities. In it, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University’s political science faculty Chaiyan Rajchaigool, describes the military’s campus patrols as “barbaric”.

He observed that the patrols, where the military drives around campus, appears armed on campus, visits classrooms, talks to faculty and administrators, “intimidated students and faculty members, likening it to treating them as if they were guilty of thought crime.”

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has “denounced university lecturers as having instigated rebellious thoughts and actions among students.”

PPT won’t repeat all of the article, which deserves a full reading. We simply reproduce bits and pieces that struck us chilling, revealing and important.

Titipol Phakdeewanich claims not to discuss politics on Facebook. His colleagues at Ubon Ratchathani University “describe him as not politically vocal, and his criticisms as not provocative or hostile, but within the boundaries determined by normal Thai politeness.” Titipol says: “My work does not involve opposition against the NCPO or the government…”.

Yet because the military is so fearful and so conspiratorial that he teaches on democracy and human rights is a threat to national security and the monarchist regime. Since “his first unofficial meeting with military officers in December last year, the army’s continued presence in classrooms, seminars and events involving international organisations has left the political science lecturer feeling fear and concern.” He has reason for his worries: “Titipol has been monitored [by the military] at eight different events that he knows of, each involving an international organisation.”

[T]he army has banned political gatherings of more than five people, it has often included seminars and academic discussions under that rule. Many event organisers are required to submit requests to authorities prior to staging a discussion. Most of the requests related to democracy, politics and lese majeste, however, have been rejected, often without any explanation.

The Army has watched and been suspicious of “topics ranging from corruption and scholarships to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.”

Titipol has links with the UNDP, U.S. Embassy and EU Mission. Military officers ask him: “what exactly are they trying to lead you into believing today?” He observes “they now see democracy as propaganda and a threat to national security.”

Read some of the comments under the story and you see that there is a stream of paranoia, from Left to Right, that views the U.S. as a Thaksin Shinawatra-supporting regime that wants to overthrow the monarchy and regime in Thailand. Madness, no real evidence other than conspiratorial blogs, but actually believed by some, including elements of the ruling regime.

Meanwhile, the climate of fear has extended into classrooms, where critical thinking is toned down and lecturers tell Spectrum they are reluctant to discuss “sensitive” issues, for fear of army surveillance. As well as overt means, there is also a fear that someone in a class may be spying or even reporting the content via family connections.

Faculty and administrators are required by the military to “closely monitor the activities of their students…”.

Vinai Poncharoen is an associate professor at Mahasarakham University’s College of Politics and Governance. he military fears him: “Last month, an army colonel and his subordinates held a meeting at the university with Mr Vinai, the faculty dean and vice-dean.” Vinai stated: “I told them I would not stop posting about politics on Facebook…. The colonel threatened me that this would be his last request, but refused to tell me what would happen if I violated his rule.”

The result is self-censorship: “when teaching Thai politics, he is careful when discussing the monarchy and instead uses obscure references.” He knows that there are spies on campus: “A staff member from the student affairs division had attended one of his lectures and the university’s legal adviser also attempted to add him as a Facebook friend.” Spying works better when threatening: “They [the army] said they have a spy in the university watching over me…”.

Assistant professor of law at Thammasat University Sawatree Suksri has “monthly visits to her house by three to five army officers who arrive in pickup trucks…”.

The meetings are described “as intimidating.”  She states: “Regardless of their manner, I don’t think the presence of military officers at home is considered normal…. It is a form of intimidation. It is sending the signal that we are no longer free.”

Since then, three to five officers meet him at the faculty every one to two months in what he describes as a “very polite” manner.

Worachet Pakeerut, already facing charges, has “three to five officers meet him at the faculty every one to two months.” He says:

Having people check on us all the time is like having ‘Big Brother’ watching over you. And for what? They are wasting their time, but on the other hand it is probably a psychological act.

A network of university professors recently declared “universities are not military camps.” They stated:

We jointly declare that in order to bring Thailand out of the conflict … there is a need for the creation of a society that has tolerance towards differences of opinion, transparency in solving conflicts and a fair and accountable judicial system…. Such a society is one that is governed under a liberal democracy … and educational institutions have a direct role in creating a democratic society.

Those involved have been summoned by the dictatorship’s enforcers and are expected to explain themselves.

Sadly, university administrations work in the interests of the military barbarians.

Army air freshener

20 11 2015

The Army thinks that a bit of air freshener can eliminate the odor of rotting fish. They are wrong.

SpraySeveral sprays of freshener have been applied to the pile of pungent gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals. First, the military has been blaming others.

Second, they have been repressing those who dare to speak out on the topic. In recent days we have seen Anusorn Iamsa-ard, Acting Deputy Spokesperson of the Puea Thai Party called in for “a discussion at the 1st Army Region Division in Bangkok” after he criticised a “statement of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, the Defence Minister, about the construction of Rajabhakti Park, a royal theme park featuring gigantic monuments of seven prominent past monarchs in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province of central Thailand, which was rife with corruption.”

Then we saw the junta raiding a television station and filing charges against former national police chief Seripisut Temiyavet and for “hosting a TV programme called Siang Seree (Seree’s voice) in which he criticised the NCPO…. Pol Gen Sereepisuth earlier said the military needed to reform itself before trying to reform the police force, and alleged there was widespread corruption in the armed forces, including in the Rajabhakti Park project in Hua Hin.”

Third, the Army “investigation” team has discovered that the Army is, in fact, virginal, squeaky clean, untainted and good. As Khaosod reports it: “An internal review into the billion-baht Rajabhakti Park found no evidence of corruption, army chief Teerachai Nakwanich announced today.”

Nothing. Not a thing. Even the self-admitted scams by former Army boss Udomdej Sitabutr weren’t found: “Following media reports and statements from the former army chief confirming financial irregularities involving overpayments and dodgy commissions paid to middlemen, Gen. Teerachai said inspection of budget and accounts of the project found no such irregularities in the project.” Nothing. Not a thing. Teerachai said: “There is no corruption. Every procedure is transparent…”.

No one will believe them, but this gang has guns and holds power. They can even get away with murder. So a bit of corruption is nothing.

Because the Army decided the Army is good, there “is no need to ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the project…”.

No one will believe them.

Not even our predicted scapegoat, Col. Khachachart Boondee, is accused of anything.

Then things got really strange.

Khaosod reports that “Army officials also did not allow media present to broadcast the news conference live, without stating a reason.” When he was asked “if the army would open the books to for the public to see how money was spent, Teerachai provided extremely odd responses: he “said that would be dangerous.” He then opined: “You want people to die for this? You want me to execute someone and their entire family for this? I mean, we have to look at their intention.” He also declared that the budget for the project was confidential.

The notion that this project is in “dangerous” areas raises interesting questions. Is someone higher up involved? Is that the reason it is dangerous? Is the military covering up for someone else? Or is he just doing a bit more of a freshening spray so that the trail of corruption is more difficult to follow?

The army and the odor of fish I

18 11 2015

In another case of Fawlty Towerism – “I’m so sorry, but my wife has made a mistake!” – the junta is looking worse than silly.

The Nation reports that Deputy Defense Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr is squirming on the hook, but may slip off it as the cover-up on the corruption at Rajabhakti Park, the military’s 1 billion baht ode to loyalty to some monarchs. The project was “initiated when he [Udomdej] served as Army chief,” but the “Army’s fact-finding [read: cover-up] committee did not target Udomdej in its probe.”

Rather, the Army is blaming others and the junta is saying it – chock full of generals – had nothing to do with it.

A photo from The Straits Times

A photo from The Straits Times

All of the corruption and “commissions” was by somebody other than military personnel: “We have focused on the fact that the Army’s reputation has allegedly been abused by someone who sought personal benefit through the project…”. When they name the person, “the Army definitely would sue wrongdoers if there was solid evidence of wrongdoing.” So maybe there isn’t solid evidence? Maybe it was the Army itself and its senior commanders? After all, that is the pattern of military corruption.

If Udomdej gets named, it must be that his “name is abused,” and then he decides “whether he will sue the culprits…”. This is smelling like a haul of fish caught by Navy-supplied slaves.

That the “Army set up a fact-finding panel to investigate alleged irregularities in the Rajabhakti Park project” sounds good until, after reading the above, it is realized that the “goal” is “protecting its [the Army’s] reputation”!

The story from the military still seems to be that “some people did demand personal benefits through the project but after their actions were detected, they returned the money.” And, as Udomdej has stated, they then donated it back to the project. That fish odor will not go away.

Questions about the transparency of the Rajabhakti Park project emerged after Colonel Kachachart Boondee, a staff officer at the Third Army Area, was charged earlier this month with lese majeste along with the late famous fortune-teller Suriyan Sujaritpolwong’s secretary Jirawong Wattanathewasilp. It was alleged that they had falsely cited the Royal Family to demand money from big companies.

Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan is busy handing out air freshener for the junta, playing down the scandal: “It’s not a big deal…”. He makes this point by declaring that the “budget used for the project did not come from state coffers.” It must be okay to use money from private citizens corruptly.

When asked if the scandal meant the Army and the junta had a strong whiff of anchovies, Prawit said, “No.”

Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha was clearer: “his government would not take any responsibility over alleged corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project.” Readers might ask “Why not?”, but Prayuth has the answer: “Why should the government be held responsible?” Oh, sorry, that’s a question, not an answer.

rotting-fishThe junta is seeking to delay “answers.” We assume this means they need to get their story straight. The Bangkok Post reports that the “investigation” is “unlikely to be completed within a week as initially scheduled.”

Prawit says there’s “much more work remains to be done.” Ah, um, er, general, you have already said it ain’t a big deal…. Wait! It’s not a big deal “like the Khlong Dan waste water scandal…”.* And, he’s not sure how much it cost: “As for the about 1 billion baht spent on construction of the park, Gen Prawit said, he could not be certain that much really went into it.” Prayuth isn’t sure either! But certainly more than a ton of plah-rah, that’s for sure.

The committee is “still ploughing through reports on the probe with no indication of when it would finish.” Maybe the smelly fish can be wrapped in the reports.

Prayuth couldn’t keep his mouth shut and decided to “warn” the “critics should not attempt to make the Rajabhakti Park matter a political issue.” No politics in it at all. Just the junta, the Army and a mountain of rotting sardines.

Again asked if the government would take responsibility, Prayuth said: “How does the government take responsibility for this alleged misconduct and why?” That’s military “democracy” at work! Blame everyone else.

We can’t wait to hear who is going to take the fall.

*The Klong Dan Wastewater Project is worthy of study. It was approved by the Chuan Leekpai and Democrat Party-led government in 1995. In recent days the junta has a greed to pay out on a court ruling in 2012 that gives about 8-9 billion baht to the original contractors. For the slippery details on this, see here (opens a small PDF), here (opens a larger PDF, and then read the Chang Noi article) and here.

The mess gets bigger still

10 11 2015

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Contributing Editor, at the Bangkok Post. In the current circumstances, where witnesses are being “found” dead and their bodies hurriedly cremated and with a testy military dictatorship lording it over the country, Atiya seems quite brave. Brave because she has an op-ed that calls for transparency and scrutiny of the alleged corruption associated with the military’s homage to the monarchy at Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin.

She states that “[a]ccording to its website, the army intended to use the 222-rai park located in the popular resort town of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, as a venue for its important ceremonies and to welcome international figures during their official visits.”

She says the “allegations [of corruption] may cause visitors to feel unsure about what aspect of the park they should be in awe over.” Now that it is associated with several deaths, perhaps murders, visitors may wonder if the ghosts of violent death will haunt the place.

Atiya commends the Central Investigation Bureau for having the “courage to look into alleged irregularities even when they are associated with such a high-profile project under the care of the most powerful institution in the country.” We are sure she means the military, not the monarchy, although the prince did open the place.

She asks “how far the probe will go, and how transparent the army and relevant organisations will be about the case.” Now that those who raised the possibility of corruption are dead or have fled the country, we don’t expect much “progress” unless it is to nail more junta or palace “enemies.” We would guess that all the contractors who were involved will now be very frightened. If this sounds Mafia-like, that’s because it is.

Atiya states that the “park is located on the army’s land, [and] the budget for its construction, estimated at about one billion baht, came exclusively from public donations.” She adds that “donations for the park’s construction can be made to the ‘army’s welfare fund’ account.” The project is “managed” by the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.

One of the people who must be worried for his career and health is former army chief and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr as he heads up the Foundation. The Army, Atiya contends, has “put a little distance between itself and the majestic park,” saying that it is “still technically under the care of the … Foundation.”

Udomdej might consider an overseas trip.

Atiya concludes with a call: “With allegations flying around, the army just has to refute them with evidence. Share the information. Show the public that it indeed did everything aboveboard.”

We don’t think there’s much chance of that.

Udomdej has talked about the Park. He has insisted that “everything was transparent and accountable.” He bleats about “sincere intention of making it national property” but that is unlikely to save him if the powers currently at work take a dislike to him. We already know that the current Army boss doesn’t respect his predecessor.

Udomdej tries to close the distance between the Park project and the Army. He says he only headed the Foundation when he was Army chief and that thw finances were “handled by the army’s financial department, which was ready to show details of the spending with clear evidence.”

He makes a very odd claim in the current circumstances, admitting that “during construction of the project some people demanded kickbacks from some owners of factories that cast the statues of the past kings for the park. After this was uncovered, the money was returned to the factory owners, who agreed to donate it to the project…”. An offer the could not refuse no doubt.

When asked about “Col Khachachart Boondee, commander of the 1st Artillery Regiment, who has been charged with lese majeste and abusing his authority for personal gain in two criminal cases, Gen Udomdej declined to comment, saying the matter was now being investigated by police.” We don’t blame him. After all, the colonel was favored during Udomdej’s time as commander.

When Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, deputy prime minister and defence minister, was asked Khachachart, he tried to claim that “his alleged offences were a personal matter and nothing to do with the Rajabhakti Park Foundation.”

We guess that both hope that the deaths of two suspects who were singing to police about the “irregularities” means case closed. They are wrong. We may expect the body count to increase further still.

Commissions, bribes, military and monarchy

8 11 2015

On 26 September 2015, it was reported that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn had officially opened the Army’s Rajabhakti Park near Hua Hin, “built to honour past Thai monarchs.” Well, some of them, including the current one.

Variously said to have cost between 700 million and one billion baht, the show of loyalty by the military, it has been seen as marking the gradual transition to the prince’s reign.

In a footnote to our post at the time, PPT wondered what the superstitious military leadership made of the damage done to one of the statues as it was transported to the park. We said that it must be viewed as a dark omen. It seems there was something in that poking of fun at the feudal attitudes of the current military junta. We are sure that several of them, having incarcerated a “powerful” soothsayer and seen shooting stars over Bangkok are shaking in their Gucci boots and shoes, fearing divine retribution.

A photo from The Straits Times

A photo from The Straits Times

It may be coming. Stories related to the current lese majeste debacle have military men linked to corruption over the park’s construction. Everyone knows that corruption via commissions in construction projects is simply the norm in Thailand, with demands of 30% to 75% of construction costs not being unusual. There’s little doubt that military construction and procurement projects engage in these activities, with bribes considered commissions.

Yesterday, the media was reporting connections between the lese majeste debacle and the park’s construction, saying the case is under investigation by the Central Investigation Bureau. It is reported that “CIB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Thitirat Nonghanpitak has instructed police investigators assigned to the lese majeste case to look for evidence of irregularities and corruption in the Ratchapakdi Park project.”

This saw police investigators sent off to “several provinces where the casting factories that built statues of Thailand’s kings for the park are located…”.

The park story is also linked to media speculation regarding a rift between Army boss General Theerachai Nakawanich and his predecessor General Udomdej Sitabutr, a deputy minister in the junta. Udomdej launched the project.

With reports of commissions being requested for the royal park surfacing in some media, the Army sought to stifle the speculation. It declared that nothing was amiss and “ruled out possible corruption in the construction of Rajabhakti Park…”. Getting its story straight has been a problem for the military dictatorship.

The military officers named in the skimming were said to have been those mentioned in reports about a major general and colonel, linked to the lese majeste-cum-extortion cases involving Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and others.

Junta spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree was resolute and emphatic, saying “the reports … were entirely false.” He added, equally emphatically: “According to the latest information from the police, there were no corruption allegations, especially in the construction. It fully followed the bureaucratic model with full transparency in every step. So it’s extremely difficult that anyone could have done so…”.

The media repeatedly reports on the officers involved:

Col Winthai apparently was referring to Col Kachachart Boondee of the 3rd Army Region, who is said to have illegally crossed into Myanmar from Mae Hong Song on Nov 1. Thai authorities have already asked Myanmar to deport him.

Col Kachachart, a former aide to ex-army chief Udomdej Sitabutr, was promoted to deputy commander of the 11th Circle Army by Gen Udomdej shortly before Gen Udomdej retired on Sept 30.

However, when Gen Theerachai Nakvanich took over as army chief, he transferred Col Kachachart back to the 3rd Army Region as chief of staff on Oct 5.

The police have now hit back at the Army and the junta, stating that “operators of two casting factories contracted to build statues for the army’s Ratchapakdi Park project have told police they were asked to pay commission fees…”.

A source in the investigation team said the owner of a Bangkok factory:

… was approached … by a businessman in league with an army colonel, [and] agreed to cast the statues for 42 million baht…. But the factory received only 30 million baht for the job, while the remaining 12 million baht would allegedly go to the businessman, who offered to be responsible for the four million baht in value added tax and keep the rest as commission….

The other factory owner told police he was approached by the same businessman in October last year and they agreed on 44 million baht with an army officer acting as a coordinator. He told police the businessman demanded a 10% commission fee and he agreed to pay, police said.

We can hardly wait for the next Army and junta denial.

Updated: The military junta and its deadly toys

7 11 2015

Coconuts Bangkok has a link to an AFP report that raises some disturbing issues.

Of course, observers may expect that the military’s budget will increase when it has political power. Between 2006 and 2016, the Thai military’s budget will have tripled, from 78.1 billion baht to 207 billion baht. The story concludes that “[t]he kingdom’s well-oiled military has been handsomely rewarded in the last decade…”.

At the recent Defense & Security 2015 fair at Bangkok’s Impact Arena, “French anti-tank missiles, Swedish jets and American assault rifles” were on display despite the fact that “Western governments have criticised Thailand’s junta for toppling democracy…”. The report states that “more than 400 companies from 50 countries are showing their wares — including Britain’s BAE Systems, France’s Thales, Italy’s Finmeccanica and Lockheed Martin, from the United States.” The U.S. has recently approved missile sales to Thailand. Indeed, it is business as usual.

The report says that “Russian arms manufacturer Bazalt was even advertising a cluster bomb — the PBK-500U SPBE-K.” Another report from another arms bazaar describes this as:

The PBK-500U glide cluster bomb dispenser (the Russian acronym translates to glide bomb cassette, 500-kg caliber) is a single-use weapon that houses either a single warhead or multiple cassette elements. Unlike the previous generation, the PBK-500U can deploy at longer distances to enable standoff attack capability for tactical aircraft acting against targets with pinpoint anti-aircraft defenses.

The Thai military was accused of using cluster bombs on the Cambodian border under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

Appealing to the Thai military might have been an armored 4×4 from an Emirati company said to be designed for “dispersing potentially violent crowd gatherings.”

A file photo from the Bangkok Post

A file photo from the Bangkok Post

Defense budgets are growing across the region. In Thailand, the report states that the “generous approach to its armed forces has not been without controversy, especially given the stuttering post-coup economy…. Critics say the military — which boasts one of the highest proportion of generals in the world — has a penchant for big ticket purchases it doesn’t need, including an aircraft carrier which currently has no aircraft.”

They do this for commissions that make them wealthy. Think submarines, GT200 magic wands, Russian planes for the monarchy (or maybe not), multiple suppliers of jet engines for THAI planes, and so on.

Update: Ukraine Today reports that “Ukraine and Thailand on November 3 signed a cooperation agreement on co-manufacturing armoured personnel carriers BTR-3 in Thailand…”. Deals between the two countries have been questioned in the past.


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