Updated: Suppressing support

13 08 2017

While one report has it that an ex-judge thinks Yingluck Shinawatra will be set free, the military dictatorship continues to worry about a “rally” at the court on 25 August.

Her supporters are being harassed by junta thugs. As a report at The Nation puts it: “The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has toughened security measures and called on people to not show up at the court, citing security reasons.”

It reports a “red-shirt leader from Ratchaburi province, Pongsak Phusitsakul, [who] confirmed that most activists, including those at provincial level, are being watched closely by security officers.” It is added that “activists are being constantly visited by the authorities.”

Because of harassment and because van drivers have been warned off, “supporters were expected to travel to the court by themselves and in the smallest groups possible to avoid security checks.”

The activists “maintained that they had not heard of any organised mobilisation, noting that those red-shirts at the forefront of the protest movement were under close scrutiny by the authorities.”

The yellow-shirted social media has been especially active, goading the junta with claims of mobilization, causing the junta to respond.

The latest response is by Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda. He has”ordered a probe into an allegation that local administration budgets were used for travel expenses for transporting people from several provinces” to Bangkok on 1 August to support Yingluck.

As the report describes it, this allegation “was floated by the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG)…”. It claims to have evidence that such financial support was provided, but has not produced any evidence for this claim or said how the OAG came to investigate this allegation so quickly.

The Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas had a letter sent to the “Interior and Defence ministries urging them to review the use of local administration organisations’ budgets” but apparently did not show evidence.

In fact, “Gen Anupong said yesterday he had ordered a probe into the issue…”, suggesting a fishing trip for “evidence.”

This is a whole of government effort is to limit the numbers showing up to support Yingluck.

Update: Interestingly, a report at The Nation appears to confirm that the Auditor-General is making politicized accusations sans investigation. It states:

There are reports that some local administrative body officials have planned trips under the pretext of other missions. Local government officials have told us that there are plans to bring participants to the court too,” Pisit said yesterday. “Such actions happened before on August 1.”

In other words, Pisit doesn’t have more than claims, although he says “his office was investigating the reports and would consider releasing the names of those involved.” The reports are mainly from yellow shirt social media and Pisit is acting for the military junta.

In response, Puea Thai Party people have urged Pisit to name names. Surasarn Pasuk said: “In my opinion, local administrative bodies have been very careful during the past few years under close scrutiny. I don’t think they will dare using the state budget for such purposes…”. He’s right. Each local authority is overseen by the locally-based military.





When the military is on top V

28 04 2017

PPT is having difficulty keeping up with all of the junta’s shenanigans, so we are bringing a few stories together in this post and leave it to readers to go to the links if they want more.

Repression: Prachatai reports that earlier this week the dictators were miffed that Niwat Roikaew, the leader of an a local environmental conservation group Khon Rak Chiang Kong, complained about the Chinese surveying the future damage they would do in the Mekong River. They called him in for a “chat.” In other words, for intimidation.

Low royalism: Khaosod reproduces some decidedly awful painting by an unknown American they say is an artist. We have seen some awful scribbling before, but this takes the cake. The royalists seem prepared to dredge up drudge and call it significant to “honor” a dead rich man.

Press unfreedom: Also at Khaosod, it is reported that Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, Ranked Thailand 142nd out of 180 countries around the world in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. As high as 142! Wow. It will fall again next year as the junta’s new laws on the media bite (even if The Dictator is having second thoughts).

A torpedo in the tube: There are articles and op-eds at the Bangkok Post lamenting the dictatorship’s secret decision-making on buying Chinese subs. One is an editorial telling the junta that this secrecy is not on. Why the Post only chooses to do this for the sub deal seems to be because they think having a bunch of business people decry the purchase means it is safe to complain. But another adds a layer of secrecy when the Auditor-General says it will “investigate” the purchase but do it secretly.

What the rich do: Well, some of them continue to get away with murder. Vorayuth Yoovidhya has failed to show in court eight times “since legal proceedings against him began in 2016.” He continues to live the high life.

There’s more, but we are despondent.





Nothing changed IV

8 04 2017

Forget the constitution, it is Article 44 that still matters.

The Bangkok Post reports that the day after the somewhat bizarre constitution-granting show, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the use of his dictatorial powers to allow him to make the “selection of new Constitutional Court judges and members of a committee linked to the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG)…”.

Ostensibly because “the law pertaining to them under the new constitution has [not] been completed,” the use of Article 44 means that the shape of the most important and most highly politicized court is going to be maintained as the junta’s plaything.

The order means that “Constitutional Court judges must be selected within 45 days.”

While there are rules about senior judges “approving” appointees, it is pretty certain that the appointees will be rapid royalists with a penchant for military government and not much time for electoral politics and politicians (the latter being a dirty word in yellow shirt and junta argot).

Both the judges and the Auditor-General Committee will “serve a single term of seven years.”

That committee “will nominate a new auditor-general for consideration by the NLA “for a single term of six years, the order states.”

That all allows plenty military influence for a long time to come.





“Good corruption”

9 10 2016

We think the royalist and yellow-hued media we are reading is a reasonably good reflective of the anti-democrat position on corruption. To be blunt, the broad consensus is that the military regime’s nepotism, corruption and its lack of transparency is a “small price” to pay for keeping the hated Thaksin Shinawatra and the feared red shirts at bay.

Yet a couple of recent cases covered-up by the military dictatorship and its puppets have involved complaints from yellow shirts that are now buried.

SnoutsA day or so ago, the grand old palace schemer and anti-democratic stalwart General Prem Tinsulanonda again babbled on about corruption. We say he babbled not because he is an old man but because he doesn’t mean it. He says things that lots of people can agree with, but in practice its all double standards. He still seems  keen to give all his support to the junta and The Dictator, meaning he simply ignores the corruption of those he thinks are doing the “right” work of “good people” for the self-important “greats” of Thai society.

The junta itself loves the benefits it and its wives, sons, daughters, and others allied with them gain through the junta’s monopolization of political power. Accused of corruption and the only response is cover-ups and denials. They also manage a bunch of flunkies who repeatedly say the junta’s and military’s corruption is not corruption and everything is above board. They often add that there are opponents saying “false” things.

Just in the past few days, the Auditor General and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, in a couple of blunt moves has cleared junta people of any wrongdoing on a couple of seemingly shaky deals.

One was General Prawit Wongsuwan’s Hawaii trip with more than three dozen others that cost the taxpayer far more than it should have. Even without all the details, the Auditor General Pisit Leelavachiropas “confirmed” that Prawit’s trip “was free of irregularities related to the flights and their meals.” (Pisit did not comment on the junta’s arrogance.)

Pisit’s decision seems to also have been influenced by some ridiculous notion of nationalism when he “asked rhetorically if it would be suitable for the delegates to walk down from the plane of another country at an airport reception ceremony.”

Pisit came up with a bunch of other even lamer excuses that can only have come from the junta. We say that because we doubt there are others so lame as to come up with these lamest of lame excuses and think they make any sort of sense.money_down_toilet 2

Only a couple of weeks ago, Pisit was proposing “strong limits on reform of spending on ‘extravagant’ journeys.” Of course, he was hot under the collar about “members of the previous parliaments,” not his military buddies and bosses. (The trip mentioned in the story is of “then House speaker Somsak Kiatsura-nont with 37 others, including journalists and his daughter.” How much did it cost? 7 million baht. How many buddies did Prawit transport and how much did that cost, just for the plane trip?)

Hypocrisy? You bet. But dolts and puppets like Pisit are making an implicit “comparison” of “bad politicians” with “good people” serving the interests of Thailand’s “great and good.”

The other case is the claims of nepotism involving The Dictator and his brother General Preecha Chan-ocha. The NACC reportedly “dropped a complaint against former permanent secretary for defence [General] Preecha …, who was accused of abusing his power to appoint his son as an army officer.”

The NACC, falsely labelled in the report as a “graft watchdog” claimed “insufficient facts to back claims of dereliction of duty against Gen Preecha which led to the much-criticised appointment of his son, Patipat, as acting sub-lieutenant handling civil affairs in the 3rd Army Region.”

The puppet “NACC found Gen Preecha was empowered to approve selections of personnel for jobs in the military.” In making this point, the NACC is assuring us that it is unable to understand notions of conflict of interest, at least where the junta and military is involved.





Updated: Panama papers II

6 04 2016

We continue to look for data on Thailand in the Panama Papers. So far we aren’t having too much luck. We were, however, reminded of an earlier report of some 600 Thais stashing loot overseas.

That 2013 report, also from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, included Pojaman Shinawatra, Nalinee Taveesin, Bhanapot Damapong, members of the Chirathivat family, Yuenyong Opakul, and note this very carefully, the Vongkusolkit family and Admiral Bannawit Kengrian.

The latter was described as “the former deputy permanent secretary of defense, who is listed as one of many shareholders in the British Virgin Islands company Vnet Capital International Co., Ltd in 1998” with 2006 coup connections and who is described in a Wikileaks cable as an acolyte of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda.

On the new release of leaks from Mossack Fonseca, the main new report we have seen was in the Bangkok Post. It states that the “Office of the Auditor-General has weighed in on the so-called Panama Papers, asking the Revenue Department to look into tax payment records of Thai nationals named in a list of people allegedly using a Panama-based law firm for offshore holdings.”moneybags 1

Yet, as might be expected in a country that is protective of its wealthy elites and ruled by a military junta, a cover-up seems likely, unless the junta can come across the names of those it sees as political opponents. At the moment, “Justice Minister Gen Paiboon Koomchaya and the business community are urging the public not to rush to conclusions and let regulators verify the information first.”

“Verify” sounds like “cover-up” or “manipulate.”

Like the rich everywhere, the first bleat refers to law rather than ethics: “… using offshore company structures is a normal and legal business practice.” Not paying tax is legal they say. In Thailand, tax, like so many other things, is malleable and politicized.

Recall that Thaksin Shinawatra’s sale of the Shin Corp involved tax havens. While he didn’t have to pay tax on the transfers in Thailand, there was an outcry over this, and the opposition to him was strengthened. Now, it seems, things are to be reversed. So much for Buddhist ethics and the “good” of “The Good People.”

The report says there are “almost 400 Thais among 780 individuals who used Thailand as a residence and 50 companies were named on the lists.” While it is stated that “[p]rominent names include well-known business people, politicians, a former military officer and celebrities…”, only a few names are named.

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) observes, “there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts and it does not intend to suggest or imply that those named in the leak have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

General Paiboon said “… the leak is not verified information. But once it’s verified, no one can dodge an investigation. So let Amlo [Anti-Money Laundering Office] work on this first…”.

Our question is: Where are Thailand’s journalists who should be working on this? In most other countries, journalists are pouring out stories.

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas says “he has seen the list and had proceeded to ask the tax authority to review tax records to detect any possible wrongdoing.” He names no names.

Pisit also suggested that the “Centre for National Anti-Corruption (CNAC) can facilitate the probe by acting as a coordinator as it is the hub of 11 anti-corruption agencies.” Some of this group and Pisit were recently part of another cover-up, finding no corruption in the military’s Rajabhakti Park, while making “commissions” acceptable.

Now to some of the names and what they say.

Isara

Isara

One name in the Panama Papers is Isara Vongkusolkit, who is chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. His response was to say that “he did not know and had noting to do with Mossack Fonseca. He was wondering how his name was mentioned on the lists.” Wondering? Really? He doesn’t remember the 2013 report?

He did admit that offshore banking and companies were necessary to avoid taxation in Thailand. He then went on to blame government for tax avoidance because it has had “high” tax rates!

The Vongkusolkit family maintains a tight set of relationships. One Chanin Vongkusolkit is a member of the Council of the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption (CAC), which is:

an initiative by the Thai private sector to take parts in tackling corruption problem via collective action. The CAC aims to bring effective anti-corruption policy and mechanism into implementation by companies in order to create an ecosystem of clean business community.

Forbes says this of Isara and family:

To offset volatility in sugar prices, Isara Vongkusolkit’s privately held Mitr Phol Sugar, Thailand’s largest sugar producer, is expanding its energy business, which generates 400 megawatts of electricity, half for its own consumption. The company, which recently faced allegations of human rights abuses and illegal land- grabbing in Cambodia, said it was in discussions with the Cambodian government about its concessions. Brother Chanin stepped down as CEO of family’s Banpu, the country’s biggest coal miner, after running it for more than 3 decades.

Chanin remains on the Banpu Board of Directors. Others from the family on the Board are Buntoeng and Verajet Vongkusolkit. Australia’s controversial Centennial Coal Centennial is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Banpu.

Banpong

Banpong

The point seems to be that Isara and his family are fabulously wealthy Sino-Thai tycoons and like their ilk everywhere, seek to “minimize” tax while claiming to engage in ethical business behavior, if that is not an oxymoron.

Another listed is “Banyong Pongpanich, chairman of Phatra Capital and a member of the State Enterprises Policy Commission, posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was taken aback that his name was on the list.” Like Isara, he claims to not know Mossack Fonseca: “I have just learned of the company today and I never contacted or did any business with Mossack Fonseca…”.

Schultz

Schultz

We are reminded of Sgt. Schultz, again and again. How many times can “I know nothing” be used?

Patra Capital is a “certified” company at the Private Sector Collective Action against Corruption and Phatra Capital promulgates a Code of Ethics for Directors, Officers and Employees. In part, it states:

By adhering to exemplary standards and conducting our business with excellence and integrity, we enhance our reputation and cultivate the growth of our business. All of us must take personal responsibility for conducting ourselves in a way that reflects positively on the Capital Market Business Group and with the letter and spirit of the Guidelines for Business Conduct.

Like many of Thailand’s tycoons, Banpong has royal links, his with the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. He is also a member of the junta-created Superboard, which is said to be “overseeing all state enterprises has the stated aim of getting them all moving in the same direction towards strength and efficiency.” A Superboard of bankers, coal miners and more means endless conflicts of interest.

Both the Vongkusolkit and Pongpanich families are represented on the Board of Trustees of the royalist Thailand Development Research Institute, which has often commented on corruption and ethics in Thailand’s politics.

Bannawit

Bannawit

The last Sgt. Schultz excuse came from Admiral Bannawit Kengrien. The “former deputy defence permanent secretary, whose name is also on the lists, said this came as a surprise to him…. According to the retired officer he never conducted any business transactions overseas or given permission to anyone to use his name to set up offshore accounts.”

Bannawit has appeared previously at PPT as one of “Dad’s Army,” which was an elite forerunner to the more popular People’s Democratic Reform Committee in trying to bring down the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was a member of several other yellow-shirted and royalist groups that sought to create conflict with the Yingluck government. Earlier, he was previously a member of the assembly appointed by the junta in 2006 and then caused controversy when deputy defense minister. He was not averse to very odd and racist claims when opposing red shirts.

Bannawit also seems to have conveniently forgotten the 2013 leaks from the British Virgin Islands. Or perhaps the rich and powerful expect the junta to enforce collective amnesia on the country.

Update: Khaosod has cast doubt on the Bangkok Post story, above, saying that the newspaper (and many others) confused the 2013 leak with the Panama Papers. INterestingly, whether its 2013 or now, nothing in our post would seem in need of change.





With a major update: Clean as a whistle

25 03 2016

The Corruption Park scandal is said to be officially over. It wasn’t necessarily always so simple. At the beginning of the affair, it was caught up in claims over corruption by some close to the palace or parts of it. Even the person at the center of investigations, former Army boss and junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr, admitted that “commissions” had been paid and then “repaid.”

Their were also conflicts within the junta and the military as Udomdej was “targeted.” Importantly, though, Udomdej was strongly supported by senior junta mover and shaker General Prawit Wongsuwan, who made it clear that he wanted his loyal underling cleared.

Khaosod reports that yet another junta-commanded corruption “investigation” has found “[n]o trace of corruption or malfeasance … in the construction of a royal monument … as widely alleged in media reports, a junta-appointed committee declared…”.

Corruption

Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas was precise: ““There was no violation of bureaucratic procedure” following an inspection of “more than 95 percent” of all documents available.

Well, clear about the limited parameters of the “investigation.”

Many of the allegations revolved around “commissions” paid to Watcharapong Radomsittipat or Sian U, and amulet dealer. However, that dealer had already been “cleared” by the Office of the Auditor-General of “allegations he demanded kickbacks from foundries hired to cast the statues of seven Thai kings at Rajabhakti Park…”. That was more than a month ago.

At the time, the trader “admitted he received a total of 20 million baht from the foundries, but the money was paid for his role as their adviser, coordinator, work supervisor and problem solver…”. According to Auditor-General Pisit, these were “management fees,” not “kickbacks…”.

According to the OAG, the trader “decided” – when? under what pressure? – to “return the money to the foundries because he preferred to help build the park as a volunteer.” Yeah, right…. He claimed “the foundries did not want the money back, so Sian U donated it to the Rajabhakti Park project.” Yeah, right….

Sounds more like a cover up to us.

This “investigation” of the trader was carried over into the broader “investigation” with the same story claimed by the Auditor-General.

This rather dubious “investigation” was sufficient, however, for General Prawit. The Bangkok Post reports that Prawit declared: “It has ended…”. He said Army commander Theerachai Nakawanich, who “was reported to have pushed the issue into the spotlight and wanted an investigation into the project” if it was “ended.” He replied it was ended.

The boss hopes that’s the case. The military is now going to go ahead and spend even more money on Corruption Park.

Update 1: A reader points out our failure to note that at least two senior military officers, linked to Udomdej, fled Thailand over the the murky events surrounding the Corruption Park scandal and Bike for Mom and Bike for Dad events. With the junta in place, truth on this case will be mediated by self-interest.

Update 2: It is interesting to note that the Bangkok Post has an editorial that criticizes the decision that all is “squeaky clean.” It refers to a “perilous” and “dangerous precedent.”

It states that the “CNAC, chaired by Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya, comprises all major state corruption busters including the PACC, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG). Its approval should have restored the tainted park to the glory it deserves.” Yes, we know, the last statement is the required royal ridiculousness.

The editorial continues:

Unfortunately, the coalition of public graft-busting organisations let the public down when it resorted to euphemism and round-about explanations instead of tackling the accusation squarely and straightforwardly.

In short, the the CNAC found out five foundries paid about 20 million baht to the amulet trader identified as Sian U for “recommending” the jobs of casting oversized statues of past monarchs at Rajabhakti Park to them. The amount is also considered remuneration for advice that Sian U gave to the foundries during the casting process, according to the CNAC.

For most people, a payment given to people who recommend jobs or serve as a sales facilitator is called a commission.

The CNAC, however, seemed to go out of its way to gloss over the dubious practice in its Wednesday announcement.

The coalition of graftbusters said the money was paid between private parties. It reasoned the rate was in line with market prices, and that the amulet trader had enough expertise to serve as a consultant to the foundries.

These explanations are not relevant to the central question regarding the kickbacks scandal.

… What gave the amulet trader the authority to “recommend” jobs in the state project to private businesses? Why was he allowed to make money as a go-between when the process of finding contractors to cast the park’s statues should have been carried out in an open and fair manner in compliance with state procurement practices? What connections did he enjoy with the army that allowed him to claim he could “recommend” its jobs to private business?

More importantly, the CNAC acknowledged that the Sian U was later told by the army not to keep the money so he donated it back to the Rajabhakti Park fund. If the money was a clean, aboveboard business transaction, why did the army have to tell the amulet trader to “donate” it?

Sadly, the CNAC did not appear to pay attention to any of these crucial questions as it explained away the scandal with irrelevant facts. Worse, by suggesting that it is acceptable for people to charge money by recommending jobs in state projects to private businesses, the graftbusters are opening up vast new areas for fraud and deceit.





Updated: Questions and “investigating” Corruption Park

27 02 2016

Just a few days ago, Deputy Defense Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr was reported as declaring himself as being in the clear on the Office of the Auditor-General’s “investigation” of Corruption Park. Udomdej stated that the Auditor-General “has found no corruption in the Rajabhakti Park project…”.

Yet, just a couple of days later, Channel NewsAsia reports that Justice Minister General Paiboon Khumchaya has “asked the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) to further investigate alleged irregularities … in order to clear lingering public doubts about claims of corruption and kickbacks.”

Army at the park

Why does Corruption Park refuse to go away? Who is keeping it on the political agenda?

As the report states, the “funding for the project, … in a 35.5 hectare military property, has been linked to allegations of involved military officers having privately benefited from the construction of the park.”

Why is that the Minister has asked for more investigations from the Auditor-General when it has “already finished its investigation into the project and concluded that all procedures were followed correctly.”

Paiboon states that “not all questions have been answered and that there are still three to four unresolved issues.” He is not saying what these issues are. He is not saying why previous “investigations” have left these unresolved.

Why is Paiboon continuing investigations when the junta has previously tried to cover-up?

We don’t know the answers to the questions raised above nor to other questions.

Are there splits in the junta? Is a faction in the military seeking to get rid of Udomdej? Why are investigations continuing even after Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has been a sponsor of the Foundation associated with the Park? Why has the junta been so agitated by a Facebook page posting about military officers associated with the scandal who have fled the country?

Update: The Bangkok Post has an editorial on Corruption Park. It begins: “Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya is correct. The public must be given full details about the construction of Rajabhakti Park, especially in areas where corruption is alleged to have taken place, before they can decide if the project is clean.” It observes:

Some people might regard Gen Paiboon’s reaction as possibly stemming from a personal agenda between him and former army chief Gen Udomdej…. Both Gen Paiboon and Gen Udomdej were tipped to become army chief after Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha retired two years ago. Although the top post went to Gen Udomdej, the sense of rivalry has reportedly lingered.

The Post rejects this. It accuses the Attorney-General’s office of an essentially biased and/or incompetent and far too limited investigation.

Meanwhile, a Bangkok Post story has more details on the flap about corruption in the military and involving the monarchy. It is a confusing and confused story, but emanating from within the military.While unstated in the

Given the incompetence of the police and authorities in “investigating” anything, the huffing and puffing is amusing: “Authorities plan to shut down a Facebook page that allegedly spread false information on two key lese majeste suspects in an act police believe was aimed at confusing their investigation.” Lies and confusion are the stock in trade of the uniforms in Thailand. The claim is that there are “50 people thought to be telling lies about suspects’ whereabouts…”.

The “suspects” are Colonel Khachachart Boondee and Major General Suchart Prommai. Why 50 others should be covering for them on Facebook and “misleading” so-called investigators is not stated. The “investigation” now seems to focus on a Facebook page rather than the alleged crimes.

The story states that the suspects are accused that “they solicited money which they claimed would be used to fund the production of T-shirts for the ‘Bike for Mom’ cycling event in August last year.” However, Colonel Khachachart Boondee, has also been mentioned as close to General Udomdej….