Big business, wealth, royal connections and fines

21 03 2016

Big business supported the coup and the junta. It supported notions of anti-corruption, so long as it was elected politicians who were in the firing line. We wonder how it is doing now?

At ThailandBusinessNews it is reported that “top executives and shareholders of five companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand for insider trading…”. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) pursued insider trading for the second time in three months “on top managers who have abused their power in publicly traded firms for their own benefit or for their accomplices.”

Insider trading has long been normal in Thailand, as it has been in many Asian bourses and internationally as well.

In December, the SEC hit “four top executives of CP All Plc, Thailand’s biggest convenience store operator, with hefty financial penalties. For more details, see the story at AEC News Today. The company, one of Thailand’s whales and under the Chearavanont family’s Charoen Phokphand Group, ignored the fines and allowed the executives to continue in their positions. CP has long had connections with the palace but has also been wiling to bet on all sides of politics.

Now, the SEC has “fined top executives and shareholders of five companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand…”. The report has details on Siam Makro:

It fined Korsak Chairasmisak, chairman of the executive committee, Piyawat Titasattavorakul and Pittaya Jearavisitkul, two vice-chairmen of the executive committee, and Athueck Asvanund, the firm’s chief legal officer, a total of 33.34 million baht for using inside information to buy shares in Siam Makro Plc.

At its website, the company has a 13-page “good corporate governance” document. Its board includes three scions of the Chearavanont family and the chairman of the board is none other than Asa Sarasin, and a board member of royal-dominated companies and other CP companies. Asa retired as secretary-general of the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary in 2012, having held the position for 12 years.

Another hit in this bout of insider trading crackdowns is also a business whale:

On Wednesday, the regulator said it had banned Chai Sophonpanich, chairman of Bangkok Insurance Plc (BKI), from being a director at Bangkok Life Assurance (BLA) for three years for his involvement in insider trading. He has also been barred from working in capital markets for the same period. The ban took effect yesterday, but he is not prohibited from working at BKI.

The Criminal Fining Committee has imposed a fine of 500,000 baht on Chai Sophonpanich for disclosing inside information for other persons to purchase shares of Bangkok Insurance Public Company Limited (BKI).

Following a referral from the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the SEC’s further inspection has revealed that Chai, then chairman and chairman of the executive board of directors of BKI, proposed a dividend payment plan for BKI shareholders at the ratio of five existing shares to two dividend shares, on top of the normal dividend payment plan for the operating performance of 2013.

This was material information that would have supported an upward trend of the BKI share price. Chai disclosed such inside information to other persons who purchased BKI shares during 24-25 February 2014 before the information became publicly known on 28 February 2014. Such action was deemed taking an unfair advantage of other people.

The Sophonpanich family has been one of Thailand’s leading business families since the late 1940s. It operates a related family in Hong Kong, involved in banking, politics and other businesses.

Other executives found guilty of insider trading practices by the SEC were:

… Somyos Anantaprayoon, current chairman of WHA Corporation Plc, who was fined 500,000 baht for telling two newspapers — with the articles published on Oct 27, 2014 — that the company was in talks to acquire a listed company worth 50 billion baht, though such information had not yet been made public.

The Criminal Fining Committee has fined Somyos Anantaprayoon for dessiminating news that may have led other persons to understand that the share price of WHA Corporation Plc. (WHA) would rise or fall, and such information had not been disclosed to the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).

Following a referral from the SET and the SEC’s further inspection, it was found that Somyos, then Chairman, CEO and a major shareholder of WHA, had released news to the public through two media publications issued on 27 October 2014 with the key message that WHA was negotiating a business deal worth approximately 50 billion baht to take over a listed company that had long been established for more than 20 years in the same industry as WHA with a multiple P/E of 10.

His misconduct with regard to the dessimination of facts that had not yet been disclosed to the SET and contained material information that could have influenced investors’ decision making and the price movements of WHA shares being traded on the SET, was in violation of Section 239 and liable to the penalites under Section 296 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1992. He was imposed a criminal fine of 500,000 baht

He’s one of the founding family of WHA. WHA has a 4-page code of conduct.

Another group hit is the family-controlled Siam Global House, with its boss Witoon Suriyawanakul listed by Forbes as entering Thailand’s richest list in 2013:

… Witoon Suriyawanakul, chairman of the management committee and director of Siam Global House (Global), and three other shareholders, who were given a combined fine of 25.3 million baht for insider trading.

The SEC found that Mr Witoon bought 8.02 million shares and 3.5 million units of warrants of Global from June 29 to Aug 23, 2012 using accounts of people who have a relationship with him in order to take advantage of inside information regarding SCG Distribution’s planned acquisition of Global. The other three shareholders were viewed as accomplices. The acquisition was disclosed to the public on Aug 27, 2012.

The Criminal Fining Committee has imposed a total fine of 25,322,064.39 on four offenders for using insider information to purchase ordinary shares and warrants of Siam Global House Public Company Limited (GLOBAL).

The four offenders are: (1) Witoon Suriyawanakul, (2) Kunnatee Suriyawanakul, (3) Apilas Suriyavanakul, and (4) Kriangkai Suriyawanakul.

All are from the founding family. The deal that was considered insider trading had a connection to the royal-controlled Siam Cement:

Following a referral from the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the SEC’s further investigation has revealed that Witoon and the three other persons in the same group purchased GLOBAL shares and GLOBAL-W warrants and gained benefits from such transactions. Witoon, who was chairman of the management committee of GLOBAL, had the decision making power over the terms and conditions of an agreement between GLOBAL and SCG Distribution Co., Ltd. (SCG), a wholely owned subsidiary of The Siam Cement Public Company Limited, with regard to SCG’s plan to hold at least 30 percent of GLOBAL’s total voting shares by purchasing GLOBAL ordinary capital shares through a private placement.

In this regard, SCG would make a partial offer of GLOBAL shares, which was expected to increase business strength for GLOBAL.

Making the most of being close to the royal center.

As the report makes clear, most of those found guilty “are from the country’s richest families.” The Forbes’ 2015 list of Thailand’s 50 richest has this:

– Mr Chai’s half brother, Chatri Sophonpanich, was ranked 14th with estimated assets of US$1.5 billion (about 52 billion baht)

– Mr Somyos and his then-wife Ms Jareeporn together were ranked 32nd with estimated assets of $765 million

– Witoon Suriyawanakul was ranked 48th and worth $470 million

The Chearavanont family was worth ranked 1st, worth US$14.4 billion.

It seems that the rich never have enough.

By the way, for interest, insider trading in other places seems to sometimes draw bigger penalties: In the US, 11 years in prison and fined a criminal and civil penalty of over $150 million; in the US, $8.8 million fine; and in Australia, more than 8 years in jail.

Updated: Wikileaks, Pansak and Surin

30 12 2012

WikileaksAs mentioned in an earlier post, PPT has finally found the time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is looking through the 6,000 or so cables to see what we missed in our past viewings. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously.  We are now working our way through the 2006 cables.

Two cables get our attention in this post. The first is from a meeting with Thaksin Shinawatra’s close adviser Pansak Vinyaratn and the second from a talk with the Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan. Both cables revolve around politics and monarchy.Boyce

PPT has previously posted on comments made by Pansak. In an earlier cable, this one dated 9 March 2006, Pansak meets with Ambassador Ralph Boyce and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Eric John (who later became ambassador to Thailand). PPT thought we had covered this one previously, so if we are doubling up, we apologize.

At a time when People’s Alliance for Democracy rallies were expanding, Pansak is said to have “brimmed with fatigued confidence.” He even felt a “military coup improbable.” According to Pansak, denouncing “the ‘arrogance’ of the political opposition”,

the current political crisis is the “last hurrah of the old wealthy class,” according to Pansak. This cabal of political and economic elite who have dominated modern Thai society are “absolutely, deeply resentful” of Thaksin, who Pansak suggests is a new type of businessman and politician. Pansak said he told Thaksin, “all of these people who have lost their role in society, who have lost their shirts because of arrogance, want to come back (and defeat Thaksin.)” This “unholy alliance” of big business, the Democrat Party and “some people close to the palace” remain feckless. They have no specific programs or platforms and lack even the leadership to defeat Thaksin….


Thaksin, Pansak claimed, “has strengthened democracy…”. By this he seems to mean that “Thaksin’s power base ‘is the people’,” with Thai Rak Thai Party “took only five years to capture the hearts and minds of the people.”Again, Pansak pans the “immature” established “elite who have dominated the country for so long have focused too much on a form of representative democracy that meets their needs and minimizes the voices of the masses.”

Boyce decides that Pansak claims are a “humorous efforts to paint Thaksin as a man of the people…”. In all of the cables we have seen, apart from being an ardent admirer of everyone in the palace, Boyce shows a congruence with the elite in usually being unable to understand Thaksin’s popular appeal.

At the same time Pansak reveals the Achilles heel of the aggressive Thaksin and an arrogant TRT: “In the past, journalists were thrown in jail…. Now, we sue them, because we believe in the custom of democracy.”

Of course, the monarchy wasn’t missing from the discussion. Pansak refers to “the King’s personal private secretary Arsa Sarasin had called Democrat Party Chief Abhisit Vejjahiva [sic.] to ask him if he would like to meet Thaksin at the palace to discuss the current crisis. Abhisit refused, saying that if the palace would like him to meet with the PM, they would have to submit a list of subjects for discussion first.” This invitation is confirmed by the ambassador and by Abhisit to the media.

Pansak made “a cryptic sentence or two that seemed to suggest a preference for a respected but politically uninvolved monarch.” He is quoted as saying:

“To revere the King in the correct manner is to allow him to be in the palace with happiness and his eunuchs only come out of the palace to go to the supermarket. So always fund beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace…the situation now is, build beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace.”

The second cable is also dated 9 March and begins with a comment on the monarchy, with the Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan is headlined as having “voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister Thaksin to step down.” As the Kingcable has it:

When DAS John asked where he thought the situation was going, Surin said that he hoped that someone such as Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda would be able to weigh in with the Palace’s authority to persuade Thaksin to go for the sake of the country’s stability. He opined that otherwise Thaksin will not likely go without being pushed. If Article 7 comes into play, Surin said, the King could appoint a new Prime Minister and “fair and transparent” elections be scheduled…. The Ambassador asked if the DP had lines through to the Palace towards this eventuality. Surin said he thought not, but that the DP was “hopeful” that the Palace would decide “enough is enough” and tell Thaksin to go.

Surin’s next claim was that Thaksin and TRT were engaged in vote-buying for the 2006 election, which his party was boycotting.

Nothing much ever seems to change in the (un)Democrat(ic) Party. In a kind of bizarre failure to recognize that Thaksin and TRT had been weakened by the Shin Corp sale, Surin seems blinded to the changes that had taken place quite rapidly following this deal. He lists Thaksin’s “consistent evasion of the law and misuse of authority” and drones about how Thaksin had

… manipulated all of the country’s supervisory mechanisms — the Security and Exchange Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Tax Department, etc…. Even the nominally independent courts are suborned by Thaksin through bribery. In addition, Thaksin controlled the electronic media and much of the print media, Surin complained.

He seems unable or unwilling to see anything other than a dominant Thaksin:Surin

DAS John asked how he would address critics who say that the DP is a “spoilsport” that, cognizant that the Prime Minister would win in a new election, will try to bring him down by other means. Surin responded that the political and governmental system itself has gone bad under Thaksin — constitutional controls have been undermined by the Prime Minister and electoral watchdog bodies compromised.

A politically despondent Surin seems to think that Thaksin is too popular for event the king to intervene: the king “would be reluctant to oust a populist leader elected by a large majority of the populace and still apparently enjoying great popularity outside of Bangkok and the DP’s traditional stronghold in Thailand’s south.” The Democrat Party seemed out of ideas and hoped for royal political rescue.

Update: Interestingly, our post appeared just as The Nation published a story on the end of Surin’s 5-year term as ASEAN Secretary-General. While supplicant academics praise him, PPT wonders why, after 45 years, ASEAN attracts so much attention but achieves so little.

Asa out, Grit in

29 09 2012

At The Nation it is reported that Asa Sarasin has retired as secretary-general of the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary. He was in the position for 12 years and reportedly asked to stand down some time ago. In the context of the ancient old men hanging around the palace so they may bath in the reflected glory, that seems a little odd as Asa is listed by The Nation as only 64. In fact, he was born in 1936, so he is 76 years old. Deserving of a rest perhaps, but a spring chicken when compared with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda who soldiers on in his 90s.

Asa Sarasin

Asa will be “succeeded by one of the deputies, Grit Kanchanakunchorn, making him the sixth person in that post during His Majesty’s reign. The promotion takes effect on Monday.” Grit was once Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and before that was Ambassador to the United States. We have been having trouble finding information on Grit, so if readers can help us out, we’d gladly post more.

Back to Asa, who The Nation says is “known for being good at his job and serving His Majesty in an exemplary manner. “Back in in 2008, one report had Asa as exceptionally busy:

With Bhumibol’s advanced age and declining health, and with one palace insider saying his private principal secretary, Asa Sarasin, handles most of the monarch’s day-to-day affairs, diplomats and others speculate that the military now marches mainly to the beat of the royal advisory Privy Council. Both institutions would likely see their powers legally diminished in a post-Bhumibol era were a pro-Thaksin administration allowed to rule and amend laws without the resistance of a PAD-like protest movement.

Asa has been an important contact for the U.S. Embassy, although not always trusted by the Embassy (see here) and was manipulative of the public through bent stories from the palace (see here). It was Asa that Ambassador Ralph Boyce went to when handing over an advance copy of Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles and waiting expectantly for Thaksin Shinawatra to fall from power. A Wikileaks cable described Asa’s account of palace political interventions prior to the 2006 election.

His tenure saw the Office earn something said to be “good governance status.” PPT can’t imagine that it could be anything else. Imagine the king’s office having a governance system based on charisma, personal relationships, favoritism and favor, and nepotism.

In addition to all of that political activity, as a royal flunkey, he was also engaged in a lot of business for himself and the palace. One sources states:

Mr. Arsa Sarasin serves as an Advisor to the Board of Directors of Bangkok Bank Public Company. Mr. Sarasin served as the Chief Executive Officer of Padaeng Industry Public Company Limited and the President, Padaeng Industry Co., Ltd…. Mr. Sarasin serves as Chairman of Thai Asia Pacific Brewery Company Limited. He serves as Chairman of Board of Governors of Pacific City Club Ltd. He serves as Honorary Chairman of The Foundation for International Human Resources Development, Toa Paint (Thailand) Co., Ltd. and the Chairman, TOA Group of Companies. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Polymer Solution Co., Ltd. He serves as the Chairman of Amata City Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Amata Corp. Public Co. Ltd. He serves as Chairman of Padaeng Industry Public Co. Ltd. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Maesod Clean Energy Company Limited. He has been Chairman and Independent Director of Siam Makro plc since 2007. He serves as Co-Chairman of Thai-Lao Association. Mr. Sarasin serves as an Independent Director of Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. Ltd. He serves as Director of Siam Cement Public Co. Ltd. and is a Member of its Governance and Nomination Committee. He serves as a Director of Thai Pure Drinks Ltd. and Thai Prime Fund. He is also a Director of Thai Tapioca Development Institute. He served as a Director of Vinythai Public Company Limited. He serves as a Member of Thailand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

Politics, royalty and business do mix.

Wikileaks: king and foreign affairs

21 04 2012

A 27 July 2008 cable, released by Wikileaks, and under the name of U.S. Ambassador Eric John, is mainly about issues related to the Preah Vihear temple area and the People’s Alliance for Democracy agitation regarding the Samak Sundaravej government’s relations with Cambodia over the temple.

A couple of weeks earlier, Foreign Minister and Thaksin Shinawatra lawyer Noppadon Pattama had resigned over the temple issue. He was replaced by career diplomat and royalist Tej Bunnag. Tej had previously been assistant to the king’s Principal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin.

On the appointment of Tej as foreign minister, John reports:

An Australian diplomat told us on July 29 that King Bhumibol had directed the hurried appointment of palace advisor Tej Bunnag as Foreign Minister (ref A), and this appointment reflected the King’s serious concern over both the Preah Vihear tension and Thailand’s chairmanship of ASEAN.

PPT doesn’t know if the Australian diplomat was correct or the source of his/her information, but the perception of direct palace intervention was remarkably widespread.

Wikileaks and palace political intervention

21 08 2011

A week or so ago PPT had one of our Wikileaks posts look at a cable concerning the the King’s Principal Private Secretary Asa Sarasin’s view from the palace regarding the run-up to events that led to the April 2006 snap election. A couple of days ago we posted on the king’s political intervention by his two speeches to judges in late April 2006, that led to the annulling of those elections. In this post we look at a cable from 7 July 2006.

In this cable, Ambassador Ralph Boyce is again recording his comments on a meeting with Asa, apparently called for a discussion of the political situation.

Background: At the time, Thaksin Shinawatra was in power, the April elections had been annulled and there was meant to be another election. Big street demonstrations had mostly ended and the anti-Thaksin struggle was being led “elsewhere.” Although there had been a bit of a political hiatus as the king reveled in the lavish celebrations of his 60 years on the throne, in early June, Bowornsak Uwanno had resigned as Cabinet Secretary-General “under pressure from an unspecified member of the Privy Council…”. Soon after, Thaksin made it clear that he would lead Thai Rak Thai into the elections. Then, Thaksin made his claims regarding an “extra-constitutional” and “charismatic figure” who was manipulating and influencing agencies established by the constitution.

In the cable, Boyce says that Asa:

“admitted that the government’s proposed election decree was on hold in the Palace. They wanted more clarity on certain issues, especially the status of the Election Commission, before the King would sign the decree…. He expected the embattled election commissioners to step down soon, and this would necessitate some delay in holding the elections.

Boyce comments that:

many Thaksin opponents have forecast that the King would not sign the decree until the controversial election commissioners were replaced. Asa stopped short of saying this, but did indicate that the Palace is not ready to go along with the current election plans.

Asa is also said to have “dismissed Thaksin’s ‘revised history’ of his audiences with the King.” Boyce notes that “Asa is one of the few people present when the King has an audience.” At the same time, Boyce says: “Asa does not always level with us, but we are inclined to buy his version of the meetings between the King and Thaksin, especially since Thaksin’s story is constantly changing.” Recall that Asa is not always said to be truthful with the public, either.

Boyce explains that “Thaksin has recently taken to claiming that the King had ordered him to leave office during his April 4 audience. Thaksin also says that the King told him on May 19 that Thaksin could never return as PM…”. Asa’s account, according to Boyce,

parallels the original story we had from Thaksin: the PM told the King right after the election that he would step down, and the King just nodded in response. Asa said that, during the May audience, Thaksin told the King that he would return to a more active role as caretaker, and the King approved. They then discussed practical issues about the replacement for the two vacant seats on the Election Commission.

The conversation then turns to Thaksin’s claims regarding political interference by an “extra-constitutional” and “charismatic figure.” Boyce calls it “Thaksin’s lightly-veiled attack on the highly respected Privy Council President Prem [Tinsulanonda].”

Asa is said to have been “quite upset by Thaksin’s comments. Asa is reported as speculating that Thaksin’s claim “might be a misguided attempt at gaining public sympathy, to keep his options open for a potential return as PM some day.” Interestingly, Asa seems to think that Thaksin is finished at this point. We could happily speculate about this, especially as Asa is said to have “complained that the main opposition Democrat Party was hopeless…,”* he didn’t believe that TRT of the Democrat Party would be dissolved by the Constitutional Court and he believed that TRT would win an election.”

Clearly, following the king’s speeches in April, the palace remains heavily engaged. In fact, Prem was about to get even more deeply involved.


*Boyce notes that “Democrat Party leader Abhisit [Vejjajiva] also admitted to the Ambassador last week that the party was not able to reach out as effectively to the voters and formulate a winning platform because it was so busy defending itself from Thaksin’s attacks.”

Wikileaks, palace and political meddling

14 08 2011

On 28 March 2006, just a month before the king made a most decisive political intervention, the U.S.  Ambassador Ralph Boyce is, in this Wikileaks cable, telling Washington and embassies around the world that the palace is neutral and wanting to stay out of politics.

Asa Sarasin

The cable begins with the interesting note that the “Ambassador called on Asa Sarasin, the King’s Principal Private Secretary, on March 28 to deliver an advance copy of the controversial biography of the King that is slated to be published in the United States in May.” In fact, according to this academic account, Boyce had gone to considerable lengths to placate the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the palace over Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles. Providing the palace with an advance copy (apparently, Yale University Press provided two copies to the State Department) was one more step in this process.

In the meeting with Boyce, Asa maintained that the palace was concerned about:

the repeated calls from anti-Thaksin demonstrators for the King to intervene to resolve the current political impasse. Asa said that the King did not intend to intervene, since that would be a set back for Thailand’s democratic development. The Palace believes that the situation can be resolved without the King’s intervention.

That’s not exactly a statement of political integrity by a constitutional monarchy. It is merely a statement of the belief that the political crisis could be resolved without the king having to intervene. Of course, the palace was already deeply involved with the People’s Alliance for Democracy and in aligning the royalist elite against the elected government.

In fact, Asa concludes that either the courts will get rid of Thaksin or that “the demonstrations will continue unabated. Eventually, in his [Asa’s] assessment, the PM will be forced to concede to the unending opposition, and step down.” Asa is reported to have continued:

In either case, Asa said, the situation will be resolved without the need for royal intervention. It may take time, since the PM is “ignoring all the signals.” [PPT: presumably including those from the palace.]  But the Palace prefers this to the option of a premature and unnecessary interference in politics.

Boyce seems gleeful in recording his general agreement, stating that despite the Constitutional Court’s “shady reputation,” if it doesn’t rule against the legality of the election of some candidates for the Thai Rak Thai Party in the still to be held election, then the PAD will be bolstered.

PPT can’t help wondering if Boyce was being mischievous in this cable. He was well aware that the palace was highly politicized. In an earlier cable he noted that the palace did not rule out intervention. Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda had already declared that Thaksin should go. Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont had told Boyce that the political situation was “a mess” – term later used by the king – and noted Thaksin’s “corruption.”

If the news reports of the period from late 2005-April 2006 are examined, the palace’s political involvement is seen in, for example, the campaign to keep the oddball but anti-Thaksin Attorney-General Jaruvan Maintaka in her position, despite the lack of a legal foundation for her staying on. Her claim, not apparently disputed by the palace, was that she was appointed by royal decree and only the king could dismiss her. Prem was making heralded visits to the south, claiming government policies there had failed – they might have, but this was political campaigning by the palace’s senior official. He and Surayud were engaged in politicking on the annual military reshuffle in December 2005-January 2006.

There’s no need to continue. Boyce knew all of this and more and yet portrayed the palace as neutral and constitutionally correct; he wasn’t simply reporting palace positions, he was agreeing with them.

Boyce is now Vice President, Boeing International and President, Boeing Southeast Asia, where he continues to maintain his royalist and military links in Thailand.

Wikileaks, monarchy, Article 7 and political intervention

19 07 2011

Continuing PPT’s series commenting on Wikileaks cables, Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce reports in one cable on his discussions with palace officials – the king’s Principal Private Secretary Asa Sarasin and his assistant Tej Bunnag – on thoughts about a political intervention in March 2006. It is, we think, revealing of palace meddling, Privy Council activism and various levels of ineptitude.

A good place to begin on this cable is with Boyce’s initial summary and his final comment:

In his summary, he notes that “The Palace is trying to undo the furor caused by the broadcast Sunday night of the King’s intervention following the violence that resulted from the 1992 democracy protests.”

In his comments, he says: “7. (C) … We were struck by the relative ease with which these two people close to the King entertained the idea of a royal intervention under Article 7, something the Palace has been most reticent about discussing previously. We came away with the impression that, if the elections were unsuccessful due to the inability of enough candidates to meet the 20 percent threshold (ref B) or some other reason, then this might be an acceptable opening for the King to use his constitutional authority to resolve the crisis…. A royal intervention could happen, but not at this time.”

Some other comments:

On a cover-up: “Arsa admitted that the Sunday evening broadcast of the iconic film of the King’s intervention following the 1992 pro-democracy demonstrations had provoked a wave of conspiracy theorizing (ref A). Arsa claimed that the King himself had wanted the film broadcast to emphasize the need for peace and reconciliation.” So the king suggested it and wanted it. “Arsa … had scrambled to issue a press statement to distance the Palace from all of this. First, they issued a statement saying that the Palace had had nothing to do with the Sunday evening broadcast.” He lied to the media and to the public in attempting a cover-up. Realizing that this would be obvious, Arsa then “followed up with a second statement almost immediately. That statement noted that as film was ‘public information’ the media could re-broadcast it on their own, providing they did so responsibly. Thus Arsa had tried to extricate the Palace from the political storm.” He lied twice.

On requested intervention: “Arsa described both sides as ‘implacable.’ Both were trying to force the King to come down into the political arena. Arsa said that the King was just not ready to do this — yet…. Arsa said that if the PM and his cabinet cannot conduct the business of government, then there might be an argument for the King to ‘intervene’ under Constitution Article 7 to resolve a deadlock.”

On the king and Thaksin: The “relationship between the King and Thaksin is ‘correct.’ The PM gets an audience with the King whenever he wants one. Lately, however, the King ‘only listens,’ he doesn’t say anything because ‘he’s afraid that Thaksin will quote him.” He adds that “Thaksin is disrespectful generally to anyone else who disagrees with him.”

On the Privy Council: Tej Bunnag “pointed out that the press was also carrying reports of yesterday’s Privy Council meeting. ‘One of them’ had leaked the news that the Privy Council had discussed the current situation, leading to more speculation that the Palace was considering intervening. Tej emphasized that this had been a regularly-scheduled meeting and did not signify any change in the Palace’s position.” When Boyce asked “how an intervention by the King would actually be perceived by the public. Tej agreed that, despite Thaksin’s popularity in the countryside, if the King did somehow remove him, this would be accepted by the population.”

Clearly, the king’s intervention in the political conflict of the time was an option that was on the table and actively considered. And, of course, it was used a month later.

Wikileaks, Bowornsak and the privy council

13 07 2011

Continuing our brief comments on several Wikileaks cable, in this post, PPT points to this cable that involves Bowornsak Uwanno, described by Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce  as “a highly regarded legal scholar, [who] made headlines when he resigned [as Thaksin Shinawatra’s cabinet secretary] in June [2006], citing political conditions.” PPT once had another description of him and mentioning his record of political promiscuity.

On his resignation, Bowornsak spent some time in an elite temple and wrote articles extolling the wonders of monarchy and defending lese majeste as a process of rehabilitation to the royalist elite.

The cable refers to a visit Bowornsak made to catch up with Ambassador Boyce and exchanged phone numbers. He explained that he resigned under pressure for an unidentified privy councillor: “2. (C) Former Cabinet Secretary Borwornsak Uwanno called on the Ambassador on September 5.… He explained he had decided to resign for various reasons, including the deterioration of his public credibility as he was increasingly seen by the elite as a defender of an unpopular administration. Additionally, he cited ethical qualms…”.

He further explained that he “… accelerated his resignation under pressure from an unspecified member of the Privy Council (he would only say the person in question was neither Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda, nor the King’s principal private secretary, Asa Sarasin, nor a public critic of Thaksin). That Privy Councilor, citing concern for Borwornsak’s reputation, urged him to quit, and to do so without delay. Borwornsak related that after he resigned, he received congratulatory messages from all Privy Councilors.”

Bowornsak was also reported to say that the “entire Privy Council was against Thaksin, he asserted, adding that Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont had a tape recording that featured the Prime Minister talking to members of his entourage about how to ”neutralize” (politically) the King, Thaksin asserting also that he exerted significant influence over Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. (In an aside, Borwornsak also complained that Thaksin had spoken of the Crown Prince and written letters to him in a manner that appeared disrespectful of the Crown Prince’s royal heritage.)”

Wikileaks, privy councilors and the prince

16 12 2010

US embassy cables: Thai officials express concerns over crown prince, Wednesday 15 December 2010 21.30 GMT

Monday, 25 January 2010, 07:59




EO 12958 DECL: 01/25/2030





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Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason 1.4 (b,d)

1. (S) Summary: Ambassador paid a series of New Year’s-related calls on influential Thai figures, including Privy Council Chair GEN Prem, Privy Council member ACM Siddhi, and former PM Anand, to discuss the year ahead. Abhisit’s performance, issues related to the royal family, and challenges posed by Thaksin/Hun Sen emerged as the primary themes. Prem offered a more positive assessment of Abhisit’s performance than Siddhi, who criticized Abhisit for a lack of resolve and the absence of an effective team to carry out his policies. All three focused on the challenge posed by Thaksin to the government and, indirectly, to the monarchy; Anand attributed part of the King’s poor health to Thaksin, and both Prem and Siddhi were upset about Thaksin’s alliance of convenience with Cambodian leader Hun Sen. All three had quite negative comments about Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. While asserting that the Crown Prince will become King, both Siddhi and Anand implied the country would be better off if other arrangements could be made. Siddhi expressed preference for Princess Sirindhorn; Anand suggested only the King would be in a position to change succession, and acknowledged a low likelihood of that happening.

2. (S) Comment: On the two most difficult and sensitive issues of the day in Thailand — Thaksin and the monarchy — the Thai elite appear as unsure about the future as any other sector of society. The stakes are significant for all sides, and resolution of the political divide and royal succession could still be far over the horizon. Elite concerns about Abhisit in office appear to reflect less on his performance than on general worries about the ultimate resolution of issues. End Summary and Comment.

Mixed Views on Abhisit’s performance


3. (C) Privy Councilor Chair GEN Prem shared his assessments of PM Abhisit, the Crown Prince’s relationship with Thaksin, and difficulties dealing with Cambodia/Hun Sen with Ambassador over lunch January 13. Regarding Abhisit, Prem referenced widespread criticism that the PM was too young and not strong enough to be an effective leader in trying times. However, Prem felt that Abhisit had proved in 2009 that he was up to the challenge of doing what was necessary to run a fractious coalition government, no easy task. In addition, there were no other politicians available who were more principled and had more integrity than Abhisit, and Thailand needed such a leader at this point. Prem expressed hope that Thais and foreigners alike would be more patient with Abhisit, who he believed was the right man to serve as premier.

4. (C) Fellow Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi, hosting Ambassador at his home January 11, was more critical of Abhisit than Prem. Siddhi said that he had told Abhisit’s father, his own long-time personal physician, that his son needed to be more decisive and “make more friends” in 2010. Abhisit spent too much time at the podium and not enough time assembling an effective team to which he could delegate action and rely on for well-thought out policy initiatives, in Siddhi’s view. Abhisit also needed to get out to engage the grassroots, one of Thaksin’s strengths. On Siddhi’s wish list: Abhisit pushing through a permanent appointment for Acting Police Chief Pratheep; using his power over wayward coalition parties by threatening parliamentary dissolution if they did not get in line; and telling the Army to take action to dismiss renegade MGEN Khattiya, even if Defense Minister Prawit refused to sign a dismissal order.

Political Year Ahead


5. (C) While GEN Prem expressed moderate concern about the potential for violence and political discord in early 2010, he felt the situation was no worse than six months ago. Prem asked about U.S. laws regarding demonstrations and avoiding

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excessive disruptions of government functions and daily lives of citizens; Ambassador explained the U.S. system of permits for protests which allowed for free speech but not free access everywhere. Ambassador shared U.S. frustration about decisions negatively affecting economic/investment climate, such as Ma Tha Phut and the digital lottery cancellation; the uneven application of the rule of law, breaches of contract, and regulatory shifts affected the investment climate more negatively at this point than political turmoil.

6. (C) ACM Siddhi expressed more concerns than Prem about the security situation in 2010, suggesting that Army Commander Anupong’s inability to control wayward red-affiliated MGEN Khattiya’s M-79 attacks on yellow-shirt rallies and trips to see Thaksin overseas was not a good harbinger (note: three days later, someone attacked Anupong’s office at night with an M-79, with Khattiya widely seen as the likely suspect, see reftel. End note). Siddhi said he had higher hopes for deputy Commander Prayuth, widely expected to replace Anupong in October and seen as particularly close to the Queen. Siddhi claimed Prem had sent a signal of his displeasure with Anupong by snubbing him during a group call at Prem’s residence to pass birthday greetings, not stopping to talk to Anupong personally as he did with other key military commanders.

Royal Family: King, Crown Prince, Entourages


7. (S) Regarding King Bhumibol’s health, Prem indicated that the King was exercising 30 minutes a day on a stationary bicycle at Siriraj Hospital and passing a medicine ball with a physical therapist to build up strength and regain weight. Prem acknowledged that he had not seen the King since the hospitalization, but that the Queen and Princess Sirindhorn saw the King daily. When Ambassador asked about the Crown Prince’s involvement, Prem repeated: the Queen and Sirindhorn visit him daily.

8. (S) Prem acknowledged Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn probably maintained some sort of relationship with fugitive former PM Thaksin, “seeing him from time to time.” Prem, clearly no fan of either man, cautioned that Thaksin ran the risk of self-delusion if he thought that the Crown Prince would act as his friend/supporter in the future merely because of Thaksin’s monetary support; “he does not enjoy that sort of relationship.” When Ambassador asked where the Crown Prince was currently, in Thailand or Europe, Prem replied dismissively: “You know his social life, how he is.” (Note: a presumed reference to Vajiralongkorn’s preference to spend time based out of Munich with his main mistress, rather than in Thailand with his wife and son).

9. (S) ACM Siddhi, in a similar vein, noted that the Crown Prince frequently slipped away from Thailand, and that information about his air hostess mistresses was widely available on websites; he lamented how his former aide, now Thai Ambassador to Germany, was forced to leave Berlin for Munich often to receive Vajiralongkorn. Siddhi raised Thaksin’s controversial November Times On-line interview, which Siddhi claimed cast the King in a bad light and attempted to praise the Crown Prince as broad-minded and educated abroad, hinting that Vajiralongkorn would be ready to welcome Thaksin back to Thailand once he became King.

10. (S) Ambassador mentioned to Siddhi the Crown Prince’s more engaging approach in the early December King’s Birthday reception with Ambassadors, shaking each envoy’s hand and appearing more at ease than in the 2008 reception. Siddhi stated that succession would be a difficult transition time for Thailand. According to Palace Law, the Crown Prince would succeed his father, but added after a pause, almost hopefully: “if the Crown Prince were to die, anything could happen, and maybe Prathep (Sirindhorn) could succeed.”

11. (S) Ambassador similarly raised the Crown Prince’s more confident demeanor with former PM Anand in late December, seeking Anand’s assessment of the dynamics in play as succession inevitably drew nearer. Anand’s response was

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similar to Siddhi’s, but more detailed and blunt. Anand said that he had always believed that the Crown Prince would succeed his father, according to law. However, there could be complicating factors — if Vajiralongkohn proved unable to stay out of politics, or avoid embarrassing financial transactions. After a pause, Anand added that the consensus view among many Thai was that the Crown Prince could not stop either, nor would he be able, at age 57, to rectify his behavior. After another pause, Anand added that someone really should raise the matter with the King, before adding with regret that there really was no one who could raise such a delicate topic (note: implied was the need for an alternative to Vajiralongkorn).

12. (S) ACM Siddhi expressed his personal concern about the declining image of the royal family in Thailand, noting that something as simple as excessive motorcade-related traffic jams caused by minor royals was an unnecessary but enduring irritant. Personal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin had raised this with the King about eight years ago, according to Siddhi, and the King had agreed, authorizing Arsa to talk to royal family members and to set up new rules limiting entourages and occasions when traffic would be stopped. Nothing had changed; Siddhi noted that he had been caught up in traffic for 45 minutes the previous week returning for a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador, due to a royal motorcade. Stories that the Crown Prince now ordered second story windows closed as his motorcade passed achieved nothing but additional popular resentment, Siddhi added sorrowfully.

Thaksin and Hun Sen


13. (C) Thaksin clearly remained on the mind of all three “establishment” figures. Former PM Anand asserted that the King’s health and mood remained poor “primarily because of Thaksin” and the challenge Thaksin posed to the stability of the country. GEN Prem asked Ambassador what the U.S. would do in the situation Thailand found itself, with a neighboring country appointing as an adviser a former leader bent on bringing down the government. Ambassador replied that while former U.S. Presidents did occasionally give paid speeches overseas, they would never work for another government; he advised Prem and Thai officials to take the high road in their public comments about Cambodia, and not to be drawn into a tit for tat with Thaksin and Hun Sen. (Note: Prem seemed to be musing out loud, but he clearly was focused on what he perceived as a threat from Thaksin and Hun Sen’s facilitation of Thaksin’s efforts).

14. (C) ACM Siddhi said that PM Abhisit had called him on his 90th birthday recently and had indicated that now that Thailand was no longer ASEAN Chair, Abhisit would feel less constrained in responding to Hun Sen’s bullying rhetoric more freely. Siddhi expressed concern that in addition to Cambodia and Brunei, clearly in Thaksin’s camp due to his close personal ties with Hun Sen and the Brunei Sultan, Laos and Vietnam might back Hun Sen in the ongoing Thai-Cambodia diplomatic spat.

15. (C) ACM Siddhi attacked Thaksin as trying to use money, red-shirt protests, and Hun Sen to “destroy our country,” but he predicted Thaksin would not succeed. Thaksin never had tried to negotiate, Siddhi alleged, but only issued demands; had he been willing to come back and spend a nominal time in jail for his conviction, Thaksin likely would have been quickly pardoned/released as a former PM. Now Thaksin would try to create chaos, possibly sparking the use of force. While Siddhi expected Thaksin to lose the February 26 decision on his 76 billion baht ($2.3 billion) in frozen assets, he claimed his sources indicated Thaksin still had 240 billion baht ($7.3 billion) overseas. Rather than live overseas quietly, Thaksin had decided to fight, funding websites attacking the King and Queen to stir up anti-monarchy views. JOHN

[PPT: We’ll have some comments on this later.]

Further updated: The monarchy is different (or the queen’s hospitalization)

1 10 2010

Also available in German.

In the late evening on Thursday, the queen was admitted to hospital. The reports show how very different Thailand’s monarchy is from almost all other people in the world and also show how lese majeste laws have made the media totally hopeless on matters royal.

Queens wear hatsThe Nation reports it this way: “His Majesty the King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, visited HM Queen Sirikit at Chulalongkorn Hospital yesterday evening. On the advice of a medical team, Her Majesty was admitted to the hospital late on Thursday for a comprehensive checkup.”

Obviously, this is a routine check, because simply everybody going to a hospital for a comprehensive check up is admitted at 11 p.m. As PPT has previously shown, if we were to believe the media, the king, who has been in a different hospital for more than a year, was never really reported to be seriously ill by the media. No one in the mainstream media dares say that an 11 p.m. admission to hospital might suggest something other than the normal. As one brief report states: “The health of the monarchy is regarded as a sensitive issue in Thailand.” The Royal Household Bureau is seemingly silent. So the rumor mill will crank into action.

The Nation then embarks on a treacly account of the kings visit the queen: “His Majesty came down from his room on the 16th floor of a Siriraj Hospital building in a wheelchair and then left in a royal motorcade. His niece, Thanpuying Dhasanawalaya Sornsongkram, accompanied him. The much-revered monarch wore a pale blue shirt, a blue suit jacket, and a pair of grey trousers. He held a camera in his hands. His loyal subjects waited to see him off from Siriraj.” Hushed tones because grey trousers may now become important symbols of royalism, following yellow shirts, pinks shirts and so on.

And the usual bunch of royal protectors and promoters were at the hospital to greet the king: “Crown Property Bureau director Dr Chirayu Isarangkun na Ayuthaya, His Majesty’s principal private secretary Arsa Sarasin and his wife, Army chief Prayuth Chanocha, and many others waited to greet him and his niece upon their arrival.”

But maybe the newspaper gets into trouble for a colloquialism when it says: “HRH Chulabhorn Valayalaksana and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn also showed up at the hospital to visit their mother.” It is hard to imagine any royal just showing up. Surely, like demi-gods, they do something more magnificent.

And just in case there are any nasty republicans lurking about, even though the monarchy is “universally revered, “Metal detectors have been installed at the entrance to the building. Police and Special Branch officers have also been on duty to boost security there.” But, then, there was a bomb scare at Siriraj hospital, where the king maintains himself.

The Bangkok Post adds that double standards will apply to the hordes of well-wishers who will be herded down to the queen’s hospital: “The Royal Household Bureau will on Saturday arrange a table on the 10th floor for high-ranking officials and another on the 1st floor for the people to sign the visitors’ books from 8am to 7pm.”

Because of laws, propaganda and fear, the monarchy is treated in ways that mark them out as different and special. That is probably as it should be. After all, they are the richest Thais, arguably the most influential in terms of politics, and have contributed in so many ways to Thailand’s authoritarian slide.

Update 1: Who were amongst the first to scramble up to the 10th floor visitors’ books for high-ranked officials? Of course, chief royalists Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, who head the monarchy’s government and maintain its repression.

Update 2: AP has more details on what it describes as “Thailand’s elderly queen” and her hospitalization. It cites a “brief statement by the Royal Household Bureau said 78-year-old Queen Sirikit, who is the wife of Thailand’s constitutional monarch [another nod in the direction of censorship in Thailand, where it is now almost impossible just to say “monarch”], was admitted to a Bangkok hospital on Thursday but did not say when she was expected to check out.” The statements said: “Her Majesty the Queen had a rapid heartbeat. The doctors therefore asked her to travel to and stay at Chulalongkorn Hospital on the night of Sept. 30,” with AP adding that the queen’s “heart rate became normal on the night of Oct. 1,” but it was vague about what the treatment was. Official statements about the royal family are traditionally formal and discreet.” Yes, they are, but vague and opaque might be better ways to express it.

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