Rewarding the elite’s servant

27 05 2019

As we said previously, to say that Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is “revered” is inaccurate for it was mainly some rightist, royalist Thais who revere Prem for his “loyalty” and steadfast opposition to elected government. It is also true that many Thais hated Prem as an unelected military politician and incessant political meddler.

Those Thais who “revere” Gen Prem for his efforts on behalf of the ruling class also rewarded Prem.

A Bangkok Post report states that Gen Pissanu Phutthawong, described as an aide to Gen Prem – there seem to be several such men who claim a relationship with Prem – “had told him of his distribution plans for the assets and savings from his salary that he had accumulated since becoming a privy council member.”

The interesting bit is that while Gen Pissanu refused to disclose the amount of the money and assets,” he did say that “the total was hundreds of millions of baht.”

There have previously been disputes over Gen Prem’s wealth. His Foundation’s dissolution was announced in the Royal Gazette just a month prior to his death. It seems likely that his acolytes will squabble over his accumulated wealth.

Gen Prem not only received a state salary for his whole life since 1941 and spent most of his life in state-provided housing, using state-provided transport and so on. He also spent periods being rewarded by the Sino-Thai tycoons for his “service” to them as a political leader. Most prominently, he was associated with the geriatrics running the Bangkok Bank.

An academic account referred to the way that wealth that flowed to those close to the king, and Gen Prem demonstrates that.





How does that happen?

16 08 2018

With the military junta in its fifth year of rule, at times it does seem to lose even its own plot. Below are three news items that PPT struggles to comprehend.

First, in a financial scandal that looks something between a white-collar crime and a Ponzi scheme with new means, the Bangkok Post reports that a big investor on the Stock Exchange of Thailand and staff from at least three commercial banks “are suspected of being complicit in a 797 million baht (US$24 million) scandal involving a foreign investor and the cryptocurrency bitcoin…”. The banks are the big three: Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikorn Bank. Police say that “several of the banks’ employees failed to report money transfers of 2 million baht or higher, a serious violation of bank rules.” Those rules come under the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

It was just a couple of days ago that The Dictator sacked the head of AMLO. That head had only been in the job for about a month. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha used his unbridled Article 44 powers to send the AMLO boss packing. What’s going on there?

(Call us suspicious, but we do recall the big wigs being involved in the Mae Chamoy chit fund that was exposed in the 1980s. The Wikipedia entry states:

The fund had a large number of politically powerful investors from the military and even the Royal Household and as such there were calls for the government to bail out the banks and the chit funds. After discussions with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the nature of which were not made public, the Mae Chamoy Fund was shut down and Chamoy Thipyaso was arrested. She was held in secret by the air force for several days and her trial was not held until after the losses for the military and royal personnel involved had been recovered.)

Second, the Nikkei Asian Review reports that the junta is dumping its Special Economic Zone projects. It observes:

Since taking power in 2014, the military-led government had floated SEZ projects with the idea of building industrial complexes in the poor, remote areas along the country’s border. The plans backfired by fueling property speculation and sending land prices substantially higher, driving up the costs of building the SEZs.

How does that happen? Perhaps it has to do with the third story, with the junta stating it now wants to concentrate on infrastructure rather than SEZs.

Third, the Bangkok Post reports that “Transport Ministry officials have confirmed that auctions for the construction contracts for all sections of the first phase of the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project will commence by the end of the year, despite unsettled negotiations between both countries.” How does that work?

One way it works is by dividing up the work into “14 separate contracts, which will use design and construction blueprints from China.” Quite a few are going to be in the money!





The junta and big business

18 05 2018

The Nikkei Asian Review has an article by Marwaan Macan-Markar that begins the much-needed task of unraveling the military dictatorship’s business dealings.

Over almost four years, the junta has quietly gone about reshaping the relationship between the military and business, both state enterprises and Sino-Thai conglomerates.

The article refers to a “cosy relationship between Thailand’s business-minded generals and powerful Thai-Chinese conglomerates.” It refers to junta-supporting companies as the Central Group, Thai Bev, Mitr Phol, Thai Union and the Bangkok Bank.

The report cites academic Veerayooth Kanchoochat who argues that the junta’s Pracha Rath project that brings the blue suits and khaki together represents the “collective endeavors of Sino-Thai conglomerates to replace competitive markets with hierarchy, rather than encouraging SMEs to catch-up with them.”

The report states that: “Conglomerates have been enticed to sign up with Pracha Rath with generous tax breaks and hopes for previously elusive project approvals.” It adds: “Officers in and out of uniform are meanwhile finding their way on to corporate boards and being given shares in return for acting as ‘fixers with authority’.”

In addition, academic Napisa Waitoolkiat is cited as saying “this symbiotic relationship has again become the ‘norm’.” PPT can’t recall hearing this since the 1970s. She added that state-owned enterprises have again become a sinecure for generals. She says that of “56 state-owned enterprises, 42 now have military directors…”. She adds that the movement of generals onto boards is beginning to include the private sector.

Those generals and their business “partners” are keen to protect this corrupt system, just as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.





Bangkok Post capitulates on free expression

14 05 2018

This morning the Bangkok Post had an editorial on press freedom: “Censorship must go.”

Presumably this editorial was approved if not written by editor Umesh Pandey.

Prompted by the suspension of Voice TV, the editorial said things like:

Censorship by this regime began the day of the coup — May 22, 2014. At that time, martial law was in the hands of the Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC). The junta closed hundreds of community radio stations and effectively shut down all Thai broadcasting, as well as many foreign stations repeated locally. Eventually, all national broadcasters were allowed to resume, including Peace TV. Since then, the pro-Thaksin station, fronted by the top names of the red shirt movement, has been shut for various periods by the intrusive NBTC. By 2015, Prime Minister and junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha made the unconstitutional decision to give the NBTC the power to censor and ban any radio or TV broadcaster.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not in the constitution to protect parroting of the government line, repeating what official spokesman say or reprinting government or big-business press releases. Such publication and broadcast needs no protection. Extraordinary laws protecting the media and citizens’ speech are necessary to protect the opposition, dissidents and unpopular voices and views. One needn’t agree with a single word or opinion by Peace TV to disagree with government-approved decision to force it off the air.

By the time of the editorial was being read locally, Umesh was gone as editor. We are not saying that this particular editorial is the reason he’s been removed from his post. However, Umesh managed to improved the Post as editor, making it more like a real newspaper and being more critical of the junta than under his predecessor and re-establishing the Post as a newspaper that was worth reading.

Social media commentary suggests the Post’s owners and directors have been pressured by the military dictators to get rid of Umesh and this more critical reporting. Then again, perhaps the fabulously wealthy tycoon owners and directors prefer a newspaper that is junta-friendly. It isn’t the first time the Post has buckled on freedom of expression.





Junta learning from China

31 10 2017

Over the years, there have been efforts to suggest that various Thai leaders in politics and the economy have turned to China in part for reasons of ethnic loyalty. Certainly, several Thai leaders have been of Chinese extraction and some Sino-Thai tycoons at CP and the Bangkok Bank (to name just two) have been early and long active in “giving back.”

But what does this mean in practice, especially when China’s economic rise has been noticeable for decades and its political sway has been increasing for some time? And, consider that almost all of Thailand’s wealthiest, including the dead king, were Sino-Thai. Chineseness has seldom been a hot political issue since Phibun’s time and a period when the OSS/CIA were worried about the “overseas Chinese” as a “fifth column” for Chinese communism.

The most recent effort we can recall was by Sondhi Limthongkul, in some accounts claimed to be China-born and the son of a Kuomintang general. Back in the days when the People’s Alliance for Democracy – dominated by Sino-Thais of the Bangkok middle class – declared that they too were loyal to the nation (and the monarchy).

When we look at the current military dictatorship, for some time shunned by the U.S. and by some major countries in Europe, the draw of China became important. While on a well-worn path, where China was already a major trading partner, the significance of China rose substantially for the regime as it sought to arm and boost the economy. But one of the attractions does seem to be, as one academic has it, mutual authoritarianism.

But we don’t think we have ever seen such an enthusiastic embrace as that provided by the junta’s 4th generation Sino-Thai Wissanu Krea-ngam in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency on the day the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded.

Speaking of the amendment to the CPC Constitution that made “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era a new component of the party’s guide for action,” Wissanu was enthusiastic, declaring:

Xi’s thought makes “Chinese characteristics” more prominent, the Thai deputy prime minister said.

He praised China for being very good at accomplishing its goals efficiently as can be proved by the anti-corruption campaign that started five years ago.

He said he believes that the new goals set at the 19th CPC National Congress will be accomplished as before.

“The Chinese set long-term goals and ask people to do it together. That is something we can learn from, as we are also working on a 20-year national strategy to guide the development of Thailand,” Wissanu said.

“It is just magical that we have consistent policies or strategies as China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. We have Thailand 4.0 and ASEAN … has ASEAN Connectivity,” Wissanu said, adding that China and Thailand can still find a lot of aspects to cooperate in the future.

Maybe he’s just noticing economic opportunities? But those have been evident for decades. Wissanu seems attracted by the Chinese model of marrying authoritarianism with markets. That seems pretty close to the junta’s aims.

 





Updated: An update on the RR case and its “reporting”

10 03 2017

A couple of days ago we posted on the floundering Rolls Royce corruption investigation. We noted that the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) was thinking that a subcommittee to investigate allegations of bribery was the way to go. Committees in Thailand usually mean that someone wants an investigation buried.

But, behold! In The Nation yesterday we read that a subcommittee had been formed and that it did something. The headline was: “Thaksin’s ex-ministers to be questioned over Rolls-Royce bribery scandal.” And there was a photo concocted by The Nation.

We read on as the “journalists” and “editors” came up with this:

The anti-graft agency will interrogate former transport minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit and his ex-deputy Vichet Kasemthongsri as part of its ongoing investigation into the Rolls-Royce bribery scandal.

Sansern Poljieak, secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), said on Thursday that its nine commissioners have set up a subcommittee to probe individuals involved in the purchase of seven Rolls-Royce engines for Thai Airways International aircraft between 2004 and 2005.

Hold on, just those two years? Didn’t the allegations go back to the very early 1990s?

Well, yes, and The Nation unhelpfully states:

A total of 26 people were found to be involved with the purchase, including Suriya, Vichet, 15 board members of Thai Airways at the time, and nine members of the national airline’s long-term investment subcommittee….

But who? Not a word. What we are told is that the “NACC had found that Rolls-Royce was unfairly favoured in the bidding for THAI’s aircraft engines between 2004 and 2005.”

Again, just those two years? What is going on?

We guess a couple of things. First, if something must be done about this corruption, make sure that it is mainly about political enemies. Second, The Nation has been vigorously anti-Thaksin for many years, and this is just one way of using the (military) boot to further that. Two of 26 are singled out and named.

It may not be “false news,” but it is remarkably unprofessional.

When we turned to a story in the Bangkok Post, we learned more. The NACC did provide names and The Nation just decided to be politicized in its reporting.

The Post is a little more professional in its reporting, indicating that the 26 names are simply lists of all the “names of ministers, all board directors and all members of the long-term investment subcommittee of THAI at the time.” It is a shopping list and not a list of those investigated. One of those listed is already deceased!

The others listed by the NACC are:

…15 are former THAI directors led by Thanong Bidaya, former chairman; Srisook Chandrangsu, vice-chairman (deceased); and Somchainuek Engtrakul, vice-chairman.

The remaining board directors are ACM Kongsak Wanthana, Chai-Anan Samudavanija, Thirachai Vutthitham, Thatchai Sumit, Borwornsak Uwanno, Chartsiri Sophonpanich, Vichit Suraphongchai, Viroj Nualkhair, Pol Gen Sant Sarutanon, Prof Dr Suchai Charoen Rattanakul, Olarn Chaipravat and Kanok Abhiradee.

The others are former members of THAI’s subcommittee on long-term investments led by Mr Thanong as adviser, Srisook as chairman (deceased) and Mr Kanok as vice-chairman.

The other former members of the subcommittee are Kobchai Sriwilas, Tassani Suthas Na Ayutthaya, Suthep Suebsantiwong, Kaweephan Ruangpaka, Fg Off Veerachai Sripa, Wg Cdr Supachai Limpisawat, Fg Off Chinavut Naratesenee, Charnchai Singtoroj and Sangngern Pornpaibulsathit.

There’s some interesting names there, including a scion of one of Bangkok’s wealthiest families (Chartsri of the Bangkok Bank), yellow-shirt ideologue Chai-Anan, multiple charter drafter and dedicated royalist Bowornsak, and several others of the “great” and the “good.”

Now why didn’t The Nation think to mention them or include them in a Photoshopped photo?

But there’s more. The Post also reports:

Notably, the list is limited to those linked to the purchases of Rolls-Royce engines and spare engines during 2004-05. They do not include those involved in the two rounds of purchases made earlier in 1991-92 and 1992-97 identified by the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) report on the Rolls-Royce case.

The Nation seemed to miss that point. The question is why is that the NACC seems uninterested in the others? We don’t think one needs to have the intellect of Einstein to hazard a guess.

Update: So maybe The Nation wasn’t so unprofessional…. We maybe owe them an apology, for a Khaosod story throws a third spin on the reporting. That report states:

Of the 31 ministerial officials who served during the years Rolls-Royce said it paid bribes to Thai officials, only two were implicated Friday following seven weeks of investigation by the national anti-graft agency.

And the two were, it says, the two former Thaksin era ministers.

The report states: “The graft agency said there’s not enough evidence linking the other 29 high-ranking officials to the graft, which spanned 13 years.”

That would be remarkable! As the report states: “Those two [the ministers implicated], as it turned out, served under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader of a political dynasty the current military government has sought to dismantle.” Yep, remarkable!

But then the report backtracks and says more evidence is being sought on the others named (in the Bangkok Post report above).

And, by the way, the NACC claims to still have nothing from Britain’s SFO, so the “implications” seem drawn without the necessary evidence.

At this point it can’t be just PPT that is getting confused, but maybe that’s the point of the manner the NACC conducts its (political) work.





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.